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Anna Barwick rural pharmacist

How COVID-19 Led Anna Barwick to Develop an Award Winning Pharmacy-Led Rural Telehealth Service

Anna Barwick is a practising pharmacist, diabetes educator, asthma educator, researcher, and pharmacist immuniser, as well as a Pharmacy Practice Lecturer in the School of Rural Medicine at the University of New England.

At the height of the COVID pandemic, Anna founded PharmOnline, the first pharmacist-led telehealth service in Australia.

We caught up with Anna recently to chat about her career, pharmacy-led telehealth, and its implications for rural allied health.

What was the impetus for developing a pharmacist-led telehealth service?

COVID-19 lockdowns precipitated our service – I noticed people were seeking out medication and health advice but were unwilling or unable to see health professionals face-to-face due to the health risks at the time. It led me to develop our telehealth service, offering advice and support, no matter where people are. People are much more comfortable using telehealth as a way to maintain or improve their health and it is wonderful to be able to offer immediate medication expertise.

COVID-19 has encouraged the development of new innovations in rural health care, outlined recently at the Successes and Failures in Telehealth Conference. Allied health services have been proactive in using technology to overcome distance to offer their services in a hybrid or fully online way. This can lead to more timely diagnosis and management, overcoming some of the workforce issues we see in rural areas, although it will never replace the impact of in-person consultations.

What kind of an impact could pharmacy-led telehealth have on rural community health outcomes?

PharmOnline reduces the out-of-pocket costs associated with attending an appointment to seek advice from experienced health professionals. It reduces waiting times and enables triage to occur in a timely manner.

Has the development of this service had any bearing on hospital pharmacy AHPs, or your colleagues in rural allied health care?

Our hospital colleagues are putting our phone line number in with all discharge medications, in case people have questions about their new/changed medications. A number of AHPs are recommending their patients contact us when they have a question about medication administration, side effects or drug interactions.

Our Tasmanian service, funded by the Tasmanian Government, enables us to use HealthLink, an integrated Secure Message Delivery (SMD) Network—this connects our team with GPs and specialists involved in patient care. It is encouraging immediate contact and interdisciplinary care, as the communication loop has been closed around the patient at the centre of care.

What has been a defining event or highlight of your career?

I have been thrilled to develop, launch and evaluate the Pharmacist After hours Advice Line (PAAL) Service in October this year in Tasmania. Our phone service targets those most at risk of medication harm including members of the general public, aged care staff and palliative carers, allowing them to speak with an experienced pharmacist between 6pm and midnight, seven days a week. It has enabled me to employ four outstanding pharmacists, to offer a first of its kind service. We have been able to work with vendors to ensure the service is fit-for-purpose and reaches underserviced populations.

In terms of your experience in rural health care, is there anything you would like to see done differently?

I would like to see digital advancements that allow instant and encrypted messaging between all health professionals. It will encourage health information to be shared securely and in a timely manner. The tyranny of distance can readily be overcome with an interconnected system. Improved communication between all parties has demonstrated positive outcomes on health outcomes and professional satisfaction.

What advice would you have for colleagues stepping into rural health care for the first time?

Connect with the community and immerse yourself in the opportunities available! You will become a highly skilled generalist as a result of the breadth and depth of people you will service.

Anna has been the recipient of several business awards as a result of PharmOnline, including the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year in 2022, NSW Minerals Council Regional Woman of the Year, and  Pharmaceutical Society of Australia 2021 NSW Pharmacist of the Year.

Anna Barwick is currently working on her PhD at the University of Queensland, holds a Master of Clinical Pharmacy, is a practising pharmacist, diabetes educator, researcher and pharmacist immuniser. Her research interests focus on rural health and women’s health, including medical termination of pregnancy, domestic and family violence support and gestational diabetes, along with telehealth services and deprescribing of potentially harmful medication.

To learn more about Anna’s work in pharmacy-led telehealth, please visit her website. | Connect with Anna Barwick on LinkedIn

If you are rethinking your allied health career, have an idea that you’re not sure how to put into practice, or want to look at new ways to use your allied health skills, take a look at our Empowering Allied Health Entrepreneurs program.

If you would like to share your experiences or thoughts on AHP innovation during the COVID pandemic, please leave a comment below.

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