Could community pharmacies help to improve youth health?

Young people are usually perceived as healthy and resilient. They do, however, face health-related issues, such as drug and alcohol (ab)use, mental health problems, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies etc. Due to factors such as concerns about confidentiality, costs and lack of awareness many young people might not get access to healthcare. Community pharmacies , by expanding their focus to include preventive and primary healthcare services, may be considered more accessible by youth.

In a study we recently published, the authors sought to investigate the availability of youth-relevant community pharmacy services in New Zealand. In addition, they explored the opinions of pharmacy personnel regarding the appropriateness of such services for young people. A Youth Advisory Group was consulted for advice on the study design, development of questionnaire and interpretation of the results. Five hundred pharmacies were randomly selected and each of those received one pharmacist and one pharmacy support staff questionnaire.

Youth relevant products included emergency contraception (94.3%), condoms (98.8%), pregnancy tests (100%), nicotine replacement therapy (97.6%). However, evidence from other studies suggest that youth awareness of pharmacy services is low.

There is not always a consensus among pharmacy personnel about whether some of the services they offer  are appropriate for younger people. Almost 70% of pharmacists and pharmacy personnel stated that young people could collect their own prescriptions, if they were above 12 years. Regarding buying over the counter medication, a bit more than half of the responders stated that young people above 12 could buy those without a caregiver, while the remaining 47.7% that young people should be 16 or over in order to buy over the counter medication alone.

Overall, pharmacy personnel responded more cautiously than pharmacists. This could be explained by differences in legal responsibility, levels of training and confidence in making a professional decision. The views of pharmacy personnel could be very important for young people, as in some cases they are the first and only personnel that the young people interact with, something that could constitute them as gate keepers.

The authors call for more research on the way such services are provided as well as the barriers to young people accessing them.

* This study was written by Emma Horsfield, Fiona Kelly, Janie Sheridan, Joanna Stewart and Terryann Clark

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