A question of ethics

Joe Demarte, PSA national president

Ethics and evidence essential when advertising services, says PSA national president Joe Demarte

The shift to offering professional services in community pharmacies has gathered momentum over the past year and this is likely increase during the life of 6CPA and beyond as the profession transitions into this space.

This transition is currently in its infancy and should be considered a medium to long term project which the profession must manage carefully. It is incumbent on everyone to ensure the services that are developed not only gain the confidence and respect of the public but also ensure they uphold the reputation and public trust of the profession Professional services are not simply retail products for sale and promotion like ordinary items of commerce. Professional services and activities in community pharmacies must be evidence-based and appropriate for the pharmacy setting and provided by an appropriately trained and equipped pharmacist.

They must be focussed on the consumer and must be delivered with appropriate consideration of clinical need.

However, it is not only pharmacies and pharmacists who have taken up the challenge to provide health services. Pharmacy banner groups and wholesalers have established capacity to identify and develop potential health services that can be rolled out through their groups. It is good to see this shift happening.

This also brings its own challenges – not only to develop robust, evidence-based professional services, but also if promotion is deemed necessary, then to promote them accurately, appropriately and ethically.

A recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decision on a complaint about claims made in promotions for a genetic test service provided in pharmacy is a case in point.

Bringing down her decision, ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said consumers placed a high level of trust in pharmacists and the information they provided and were entitled to expect that products and services in pharmacies were promoted in a way that was ‘clear and accurate, and explained both the benefits and limitations of those products or services.’

‘This is a reminder to pharmacies to avoid making statements about products in advertising and promotional materials that are overly broad or which do not contain sufficient qualification, and consequently have the potential to mislead consumers.’

Commissioner Court is quite correct in this. The PSA Code of Ethics for Pharmacists echoes her comments. Section 8 on Ethical Business Practices states that: ‘A pharmacist must refrain from inappropriate advertising, cognisant of the fact that pharmacy is a health care profession.’

This statement is quite clear and recognises that advertising goes to consumer perception not just of the service provided, but also more broadly to the integrity of our profession.

I would urge all who are developing professional services for community pharmacies to not just ensure they are evidence-based and focussed on delivering positive health outcomes, but also to ensure the promotion is accurate and reflects the intent of our Code of Ethics.

The ACCC case mentioned earlier shows that even with the best of intentions things can go awry if the promotion is not clear and accurate in the way it promotes the service.

The network of accessible community pharmacies across Australia is well placed to provide these professional services, as they have face-to-face interaction with 90% of the Australian population.

The last thing the profession wants or needs is for the move to professional services in community pharmacies to be derailed because the promotion of a service has been overstated or because the service is not based on robust evidence.

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