Pharmacies have always played a relevant role in healthcare in Portugal, where pharmacists and pharmacy technicians traditionally share knowledge on disease awareness and health literacy. The number of National Health System (NHS) users waiting for medical appointments beyond the guaranteed waiting time increased by 45% from 2021 to 2022. Practitioners in pharmacies are easier to access than a physician and are directly connected to the communities in which the pharmacies are located. They also have the technical knowledge to identify diseases and not overlook symptoms. As such, they hold an important position to make a difference to the provision of healthcare in the country.
According to media reports, pharmacies’ associations have been working with the Government to recognize the relevance of their position in the sector and create the framework to allow pharmacists to screen for infections and refer users to doctors. Pharma companies operating in Portugal consider similar mechanisms within their business development strategies, trusting pharmacists as able to identify symptoms traditionally overlooked and advise users on when to resort to their doctors.
While it is too soon to tell how the framework will be designed, if approved the measure could have a significant impact on primary care. Notably if – as it seems is being discussed with the Government – agreements are in place with doctors to allow patients a fast lane access to medical appointments when referred by such a practitioner.