An interview with Debra Rowett, BPharm, Adv Prac Pharm, FPS, the Director of the Drug and Therapeutics Information Service (DATIS) in Adelaide, Australia. Debra joins Winnie Ho, NaRCAD Program Coordinator in a two-part conversation about a 30-year career of pioneering academic detailing in Australia and reflects on the past, the present, and the future of the field. In Part Two, we discuss the evolution of academic detailing as the world of healthcare changes. You can read Part One here.
Winnie: You wear so many hats when it comes to AD. How have those roles changed over your time with DATIS?
Debra: Before I was Director of DATIS, my role was primarily around developing our detailing materials, and evaluating the evidence and our program. I was always interested in the synthesis of evidence and turning that into value for clinicians. I was a clinical pharmacist who was working with people across many disciplines, and there was a growing body of evidence, but translating that into practice was always a challenge.
W: I think you touch on a fundamental aspect of AD – that we turn evidence into value, and that we translate all this research into action. It’s very critical that AD continues to provide that independent, trusted, unbiased source of information to ensure evidence is disseminated responsibly and utilized properly.
D: I would agree with that, very much. We live in an information-dense era and much of the information is synthesized and aggregated at the population-level, but clinicians are responsible for decisions at the individual patient level. I think AD is about bringing evidence to the point at which clinical decision making is made.
W: I’m curious about your experience with evaluating evidence for AD materials. It’s clearly a difficult, but super important aspect of AD. You have all these clinicians who are trying their best to make the best possible decision for their patient – and AD comes in, and in many ways, helps share in that responsibility.
D: Evaluating evidence is also about recognizing what we don’t know in the evidence. When reviewing the evidence for an AD program, we look for where there are gaps in the evidence, where there’s controversies, and differences in opinion about the evidence. No matter how well done, you make choices along that entire process about what to include, what to exclude – and even with the synthesized evidence, there is still human judgement about how to use it.
W: Right, and that human judgement also needs to focus on how that evidence came to be and how it was produced.
D: Absolutely. As we know evidence-based medicine is not just about the randomized controlled trials and published evidence, it’s about the intersection of published evidence, clinical judgement, and the patient’s specific needs, goals, and circumstances. The real opportunity for AD is that you can personalize this information for the provider to work with.
W: It’s extraordinarily rewarding work, and it’s a constant process in grappling with the things we don’t know. As someone who has been in this work for a long time and has had to adapt a long-standing AD program to changing guidelines and medical evidence, you’ve likely seen some big shifts in the medical consensus. Take opioids for example – the consensus around the safety of its use has had a dramatic change over the years. How have you adapted when the evidence base can sometimes change quickly within a few years?
D: It’s important that we come to providers with a balanced view, and that we acknowledge with them that there is uncertainty, that there is complexity, and that it isn’t easy to make these decisions with their patients. There’s a lot of things that we don’t know. If you come with too much certainty, you lose credibility because translating evidence into routine clinical practice is complex. Every time a medicine is prescribed for and used by a patient, we’re forecasting how the future will proceed - the exact benefits and harms that a patient will experience are uncertain.
People are living longer and with multimorbidity which presents new medical challenges. We’re seeing more people living with issues like musculoskeletal problems, hypertension, diabetes, renal problems, atrial fibrillation, and surviving their myocardial infarctions. The number of medications that patients take now compared to 30 years ago have increased. There are individual guidelines for each condition, that don’t necessarily take the other comorbidities into account.
The drugs used to treat one issue may lead to treatment conflicts for another condition and needs to be taken into consideration. It’s not just in one area of practice that has changed too, or just our demographics – we’re seeing fewer solo General Practitioners and more team-based practice in Australia. AD needs to take all of that into account when considering how to detail, and also who to detail.
W: Can you explain what you mean by “who to detail”?
D: It’s important to understand who the decision-maker is and what the decision you’re trying to address is – for some of our AD programs it might involve other health professionals; it’s not always the doctor.
W: Right, and this whole of office approach looks at all the players involved in the continuum of care, and acknowledges that they may play a role in how clinical decisions are ultimately made.
D: Yes, and I think this is why AD is even more important now than it was when we first started. It allows us to bridge individual condition silos, and helps providers navigate multimorbidity. Healthcare is never a one-size fits all, even for an individual. Their circumstances and treatment goals can change over the course of their lives. AD can personalize the information and tailor it to the needs of the clinician. AD can also be the conduit between population level evidence and its translation into clinical decision making - that is one of its greatest strengths.
W: NaRCAD has been lucky to see overarching growth of AD programs everywhere, along with all of its exciting new innovations and evolutions. Any final thoughts on AD before we hear from you at our upcoming conference?
D: One of the things I try and impart when teaching the method of AD is to value the knowledge of the person you are detailing. There is a lot of listening that occurs in successful AD if you are truly to meet the needs of the provider you are visiting. If you keep at the very heart of what you do, respect for learning together and hold true to the principles of academic detailing, you will meet incredible people everywhere you go. It makes for a wonderful career.
(Part Two of Two)
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Debra Rowett, BPharm, Adv Prac Pharm, FPS, has led an academic detailing team for over 20 years and is a member of the team which designed, developed and delivered the “Best Practice in Educational Visiting” training for academic detailers in Australia. Debra has worked closely with NPS Medicinewise since their inception and has provided consultancies to other national and international academic detailing programmes. Debra is an experienced academic detailer with expertise in designing, developing, training, implementing and evaluating academic detailing programmes. Debra has served as the President of the Australian Pharmacy Council and is currently the Vice President of the Council of Pharmacy Schools. Debra has worked extensively in the area of quality use of medicines, inter-professional practice, policy and health workforce development in Australia. Debra is a member of the national Drug Utilisation Sub-Committee of the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).
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