Local Pharmacy Group Launches new Fertility Service
According to the HSE, one in six couple will experience fertility issues here in Ireland. That means approximately eight in 10 couples will successfully conceive within a year. This leaves those struggling to conceive often searching for assistance. Leading fertility consultants within Ireland estimate that between 8,000 and 10,000 people seek medical treatment or assisted conception per year; with almost half of them leaving Ireland specifically for IVF treatment. This includes heterosexual couples and also single women looking to get pregnant. Ireland is the only state in the European Union to not offer publicly funded IVF as well as being ranked 40th out 43 nations for access to fertility treatment.
Unfortunately couples and in particular women often feel stigmatised for not having children by a certain age. Further, the lack of conversation and accessibility can further enflame fertility as a taboo subject as well.
The good news is that Pharmacy is facing a dynamic shift from being a simple one-stop shop for health, beauty and dispensing to being recognised as wellness clinics for all things health. Pharmacists are empowered more so with being experts in medication and clinical matters. Therefore, with pharmacy being an integral part of any community, the doors to discuss sensitive issues should now be accessible at all times.
With the advance of technology, this elevates healthcare accessibility and makes it easy to connect patients with healthcare professionals. Digital technology can also serve as a powerful tool for increasing organisational efficiency and so improve health outcomes within communities.
Our pharmacy group is on a mission to cultivate community wellness by innovating with services. This includes tackling community problems such as taboo topics – one of which is fertility.
The challenges we face as pharmacists however is finding the time so that we are able to provide a high level of quality services.
We are all over burdened with administrative tasks which often consumes any free time we have. As a superintendent pharmacist, part of my role is to look at processes within our organisation and make them efficient and lean, all whilst complying with legislation. For that reason, I have been developing a new software which essentially free’s our pharmacists up with time. In addition, we innovate our services within the software, which allows for service optimisation and hence, a greater quality of care.
With that being said, How did we develop the new fertility service? And how does that tie in with digital technology.
We used a unique approach to identifying a need for the new fertility service. We acknowledged there was a gap in fertility knowledge by health care professionals and so we sought to explore this further.
Having completed my MBA back in 2019, I learnt about different methods of business research and so applied the same method for developing this service. This involved taking a qualitative approach which included identifying a problem statement. Through this, we could then identify a solution.
We held in depth discussions with cohorts of patients undergoing fertility treatment. Topics discussed included: Their fertility journey, choice of pharmacy, failings within pharmacy, pharmacy service solution and additional pharmacy support. These discussions were held in a non-structured way which allowed for patients to truly express themselves. From a research perspective, this also allowed for us to identify common themes in an unbiased way. We further held discussions with various other stakeholders such as fertility clinics, GPs, pharmacists and nurses. Once we had gathered all data, we then began to identify reoccurring phrases, words, sentences and topics. This then allowed for us to establish key themes.
Amongst the key themes identified, the most common one was: Pharmacist knowledge.
Patients wanted to go to pharmacies whose staff were confident in empowering and supporting them along their journey. For patients undergoing fertility treatment, the process can often be overwhelming and stressful. Often fertility protocols can be lengthy, with medications needing to be administered at certain stages of the cycle. Injections can further complicate things, with patients being unaware of the additional equipment required for administration. Patients also lacked confidence in being able to apply the correct technique for administering injections.
As pharmacy would be the final step before commencing the fertility protocol, patients felt they would benefit in receiving added reassurance from their pharmacies. The best way of doing so is through knowledge. Having a pharmacy which could confidently explain the protocol and educate patients on supplementary support would go a long way in making their journey seamless and stress free. This also includes offering lifestyle support such as smoking cessation and supplement recommendation. Lifestyle support further extended to those starting their fertility journey with patients also wanting their pharmacists to provide advice on weight loss and diet.
Having taken into consideration all the key themes, we developed a service based around empowerment. We upskilled all of our pharmacists in being able to describe the entire fertility journey and everything in between. From counselling patients to providing accurate and up to date fertility advice. We integrated that into our in-house developed software, which allows for us to carry out a review in a coordinated, professional and cohesive manner. Once completed, our software exports the discussion points into a document which can then be printed and provided to the patient. This can then be given to the patient for record keeping purposes and so that they can provide this to other interdisciplinary teams.
The result… Fantastic!
What is the future of our new fertility service? We really believe in the power of technology for advancing healthcare. We’re currently exploring the option of integrating artificial intelligence as part of our software. AI systems operate through absorbing large amounts of data, analysing for data patterns, and then using these to predict future outcomes. Therefore, over a period of a time, our software will adopt machine learning which can then be used to better enhance our services for patients to come.
We’re looking to roll out our technology to as many pharmacies as possible. We’re currently running through our beta phase and will be soon to launch officially.