Hear how primary care pharmacist Michelle Douglas’s involvement in the NEY GMSA Familial Hypercholesterolemia Project has impacted on her practice and patients.

Tell us about you!

I’m a primary care network pharmacist in Blyth. I qualified as a pharmacist in 2007 and during my career I have worked in community pharmacy and primary care. I enjoy my current role as it allows me to have continuity of care with patients. Patients are able gain confidence and trust in the advice I give, and through a shared decision-making approach, gain maximum benefit from their medicines.

How did you get into the world of genomics?

It was by chance that I took part in the NEY GMSA familial hypercholesterolemia project, our PCN team recognised that genomics was integral to the future of medicine and encouraged me to get involved in the project. Prior to the project I had some knowledge of cholesterol, but I hadn’t really heard anything about familial hypercholesterolemia in primary care.

What is Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH)?

Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is one of the most frequently inherited genetic conditions, affecting about one person in every 250.

People with FH have high levels of cholesterol from birth, meaning they are at high risk of developing early heart disease. Unfortunately, many people in the UK are not diagnosed.

It is important the pharmacy community has a greater awareness of FH, so that we can sign post appropriately because early testing and diagnosis mean that treatment can be initiated before complications develop.

Patient Journey and Pharmacist Experience

Tells us about the project and your experiences

The project was focused on exploring the feasibility of a PCN-pharmacist led service offering FH testing to patients within the primary care setting. As part of the project, I systematically searched medical records in primary care and consented patients for diagnostic genetic testing in accordance with clinical criteria to identify patients with FH. We had access to expert advice from FH specialists and lipidology services and underwent training for FH gene testing in collaboration with Northumbria University.

The experience allowed me to appreciate the impact of a FH diagnosis on patients and their families.  As FH is a genetic condition, testing family members helps to find other people with the same condition before it results in potential health problems such as heart disease.

Any barriers or challenges and how you overcame them

The biggest challenge for me was trying to engage patients in the importance of genomics as some were anxious about digging into family history because of issues like adoption or not wanting to upset relatives.

When patients understood the benefits for themselves and relatives, they were much more accepting.  I think it is very important to raise the awareness of FH amongst patients and public, and to ensure that discussions about FH become ‘standard practice’ for high cholesterol and lipid optimisation reviews.

How has this project made a difference?

The project has had a positive impact on patients and their families, as well as allowing me to develop and share my knowledge with the wider teams and raise awareness of FH.

What’s next for you?

I have recently started my independent prescribing qualification and I am looking forward to developing new skills and enhancing my clinical role.

If you would like to learn more about the project please check out our Familial Hypercholesterolemia page here

Familial Hypercholesterolemia – North East and Yorkshire Genomic Medicine Service North East and Yorkshire Genomic Medicine Service (ney-genomics.org.uk)