Why ‘ask your pharmacist’ could move us forward

S3 consumer advertising could enhance the public’s understanding of what pharmacists do, writes Dr Natalie Gauld

The new ad concept from the Australian Self-Medication Industries was aired at APP earlier this month. It was a mock TV ad for a cold sore tablet. The mock ad has been developed to show a responsible approach to advertising of S3s to help get more listed on Appendix H.

I’m not a fan of ads that say “available from your pharmacist” as it is not clear that sometimes the pharmacist might think it is not suitable. This mock ad had a different approach.

The pharmacist was to the forefront in the ad with the opening screen showing the words “Ask Your Pharmacist”. A consultation with the pharmacist was shown, and the ad ended with a clear message to “ask your pharmacist if the medicine is the right treatment for you”.

When pharmacist-supplied sildenafil was launched in NZ, a similar approach was taken. The Douglas ad for Silvasta shows a man sitting down consulting with the pharmacist, and it is clear that the pharmacist needs to assess suitability. This helps set realistic expectations.

It also better highlights the role of the pharmacist. I’m surprised how often people do not realise how knowledgeable a pharmacist is, or the importance of checking for contraindications or precautions of non-prescription medicines.

A common view in Australia is that advertising makes it difficult for pharmacists to decline a supply. Health care consumers sometimes demand what they want, whether it is expecting the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic for an upper respiratory tract infection, or, in NZ at least, expecting the pharmacist to supply trimethoprim for a urinary tract infection.

In neither case is this driven by TV advertising, but from word of mouth or previous experience.

Some of the most inappropriate but adamant product requests I have encountered as a pharmacist have come from previous use of the neighbour’s tablets, or previous appropriate use under different circumstances, rather than from advertising.

Pharmacists always have an obligation to be sure that the S3 medicine is right for the person in front of them regardless of what has driven the request. Educating the public about the pharmacist’s need to ensure appropriate use, as in ASMI’s mock ad, is helpful. Pharmacy organisations could play a useful role here too.

Research shows that requesting a product by name leads to fewer questions being asked. AJP has just reported Australian mystery shopping research on codeine-containing analgesics[1] which used named product request and found that some pharmacists do a good job with codeine, and others provide inadequate screening and advice.

In contrast, the vaccination model is working well in Australia,[2, 3] perhaps because of the “controlled pharmacist-supply” in which a screening tool is used and the pharmacist has additional training.

There is a need to consider how best to get these consultations done well for other supplies from the pharmacist. Having the “ask your pharmacist” message to the forefront of the TV ad will help consumers welcome that consultation.


  1. Byrne, G.A., P.J. Wood, and M.J. Spark, Non-prescription supply of combination analgesics containing codeine in community pharmacy: A simulated patient study [online]. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, 2017.
  2. Hattingh, H.L., et al., Evaluation of the first pharmacist-administered vaccinations in Western Australia: a mixed-methods study. BMJ Open, 2016. 6(9).
  3. Nissen, L., et al., Queensland pharmacist immunisation pilot phase 1 pharmacist vaccination – influenza final report. 2015.


Dr Natalie Gauld is a Director of Natalie Gauld Ltd, which works on access to medicines and research. She is an Honorary Lecturer at the Department of General Practice, University of Auckland, NZ, and a member of the National Executive of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. She has consulted to industry and pharmacy organisations on down-scheduling (including for sildenafil) and is an associate member of the Australian Self-Medication Industries. The views expressed in this blog are hers alone and do not represent any other organisation.

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