Comment: Understanding pharmacist behaviour is important for successful reclassifications

Published on: 23 June 2017


Guest blog from Fiona Hammond, MD at PAGB Associate Member, Hamell Communications Ltd

Our health care system is changing.  System change requires behaviour change. Fiona Hammond of Hamell Communications shares insights from a pan-European, self-funded study into pharmacist decision-making, which identifies common behavioural drivers that may allow us to both predict and intervene to accelerate self care.

Hamell Communications Ltd

We all know the way we access and use our health care system must change. The growing pressure on government bodies to control health expenditure, combined with increasingly informed customers demanding easier access, requires us to refocus our efforts. We need to invest in self care and preventative measures.

At Hamell, we know that system change requires behavioural change. This is especially true for pharmacists in the UK, whose role is further shifting from dispenser to risk assessor and diagnostician. They are under increasing demand to provide the best medication and support, whether for lifestyle choices, minor ailments or long-term conditions. Many pharmacists are embracing this challenge full-on, but for others there is understandable reluctance or resistance.

As a behaviour change agency in the health care industry, one of Hamell’s key commitments is to self care.  We therefore undertook a self-funded study to attempt to understand this variation.  To move beyond the ‘what’ to understand the ‘why’ and identify the key factors and barriers motivating pharmacist behaviour concerning self care. To move beyond assumptions and generate a robust evidence-base from which to interact with these stakeholders and consequently facilitate change.

We conducted research across nine European countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries. Within each country, we recruited pharmacists from different towns and cities, settings (i.e. rural vs. urban) and pharmacy types (e.g. independents, small chains). In total our sample consisted of 758 community pharmacists. As well as conducting in-depth interviews, we utilised ethnographic principles to observe how pharmacists make real-life decisions about OTC products, through their consultations with real and virtual customers.

By applying our behavioural model to this data, we were able to identify the core behavioural drivers motivating self care amongst pharmacists. By this we mean the deep-rooted characteristics that make them who they are and do what they do. Do they make snap decisions? Are they early adopters or do they prefer tried and tested? These drivers don’t change over time, product or brand, and as a result are key to understanding and changing behaviour.

From our 758 pharmacists, we identified 6 core drivers that differentiated behaviour. These were:

In the process of establishing these drivers, we unearthed certain patterns. Pharmacists had very similar clusters of core behavioural drivers to some of their colleagues, and were very different to others. In fact, we found three distinct types of pharmacist. We were able to build behavioural profiles of these groups and found, rather surprisingly, that these three profiles were able to successfully differentiate pharmacist behaviour across all of the nine European countries which we assessed. There were no other types in any of the countries we researched.

What did differ were the proportions in each country. We suggest that these variations in distribution probably reflect the differences in the structure and practice of pharmacy as well as cultural differences between countries.

We always knew that pharmacists behaved differently in relation to OTC medicines; who they recommend medicines to, which products they recommend, how often etc. We believe that our self-funded study takes us one step closer to understanding why and accelerating the progress of self care initiatives. Knowing the importance and prevalence of these core behavioural drivers allows us to overcome potential barriers to OTC products, refine pharmacy materials and facilitate communication with stakeholders. In this manner, we hope to both increase engagement with OTC services and medicines, and improve the pharmacist-customer interaction.

Our findings have additional relevance for POM to P switches, where pharmacist behaviour is key to success. Knowing how pharmacists will behave in relation to a switch and why can enable strategies to be developed that give pharmacists the information, support and the encouragement they need to engage with a switched product. It is also of significant value to the implementation of the new pharmacy contract in the NHS where pharmacists will have to practice beyond the boundaries of their traditional role in dispensing prescription products, providing specific services and interacting more with different types of customers.

This blog post first appeared in the June edition of PAGB’s member e-newsletter Spotlight.