Health workforce planning is especially important in a setting of political, social, and economic uncertainty. Portuguese community pharmacists are experiencing such conditions as well as increasing patient empowerment, shortage of primary care physicians, and primary health care reforms. This study aims to design three future scenarios for Portuguese community pharmacists, recognizing the changing environment as an opportunity to develop the role that community pharmacists may play in the Portuguese health system.
The community pharmacist scenario design followed a three-stage approach. The first stage comprised thinking of relevant questions to be addressed and definition of the scenarios horizon. The second stage comprised two face-to-face, scenario-building workshops, for which 10 experts from practice and academic settings were invited. Academic and professional experience was the main selection criteria. The first workshop was meant for context analysis and design of draft scenarios, while the second was aimed at scenario analysis and validation. The final scenarios were built merging workshops’ information with data collected from scientific literature followed by team consensus. The final stage involved scenario development carried by the authors alone, developing the narratives behind each scenario.
Analysis allowed the identification of critical factors expected to have particular influence in 2020 for Portuguese community pharmacists, leading to two critical uncertainties: the “Legislative environment” and “Ability to innovate and develop services”. Three final scenarios were built, namely “Pharmacy-Mall”, “e-Pharmacist”, and “Reorganize or Die”. These scenarios provide possible trends for market needs, pharmacist workforce numbers, and expected qualifications to be developed by future professionals.
In all scenarios it is clear that the future advance of Portuguese community pharmacists will depend on pharmaceutical services provision beyond medicine dispensing. This innovative professional role will require the acquisition or development of competencies in the fields of management, leadership, marketing, information technologies, teamwork abilities, and behavioural and communication skills. To accomplish a sustainable evolution, legislative changes and adequate financial incentives will be beneficial. The scenario development proves to be valuable as a strategic planning tool, not only for understanding future community pharmacist needs in a complex and uncertain environment, but also for other health care professionals.