The King’s speech: the difference between economists and pharmacists

Prof Stephen King

Every King has his Achilles heel, writes Mouhamad Zoghbi… economists and health professionals are degrees apart

This king stood with a confidence that shook the pharmacy nation. He didn’t stutter or fumble for words; he knew exactly what to say, how to say it and when to say it.

Not at all fazed by the thousands of pharmacists who pointed their bows and arrows at him because they feel their livelihood is to be threatened by his very existence, Professor Stephen King, the industrial economist, eloquently shielded himself from the arrows that flooded his way. But it’s important to remember that even powerful kings have an Achilles heel.

King began his speech by saying, “I come to this review without any pre-conceptions, I come to this review as an industrial economist”.

It is important to note that one of the industrial economist’s main roles is to assess the competitive nature of an industry.

This leads me to a question I asked the Honourable Sussan Ley: “Why is the government stimulating competition amongst pharmacies instead of stimulating collaboration?”

The Health Minister answered, “Because competition stimulates collaboration.”

When I asked her to elaborate, she thanked me for giving her a copy of my book and left.

So my question is: could this mean that assigning an industrial economist to review the sector is to stimulate further competitive behaviour amongst battle-weakened pharmacies?

We will find out in March 2017, when the final report and recommendations are published.

You see, stimulating competition may lead to the following results:

  1. The hope that pharmacists focusing on the size of their bank accounts can wake up from their current coma and start focusing on improving patient health outcomes.
  2. To stimulate health collaboration within the industry that focuses on the reliable access to medicines which will lead to better health outcomes for the people of our nation.
  3. To stimulate a competitive retail pharmacy environment that saves the government billions of dollars.
  4. To create competition so fierce that only the fittest will survive and those that do will be the models the Government will support. Interestingly, Professor Stephen King strongly emphasised this option as a BIG BIG risk pharmacy faces, so brace yourself for the mother of all battles.


During King’s speech at APP, he clearly said that the current pharmacy model is not sustainable and as community pharmacies you are retailers who make a profit through a retail system.

He then went on to repetitively disagree with my previous blog in the AJP,Don’t Choose Between Discounts and Service,” stating that he does not see pharmacy to be one degree apart.

If only he had read the entire article and downloaded the “Effective Sales Strategies For Today’s Pharmacy Challenges” document, then maybe he would have said otherwise!

Fortunately, this is where Stephen exposed his Achilles heel, which is that there is a fundamental difference between an economist and a health care professional.

Economists look at numbers and figure out how to save costs by enhancing competition within an industry giving the government and consumers financial benefits.

Health care professionals look at the patient (not a consumer or customer) and figure ways to improve the individual’s health because each individual life is valuable. In the process better health gives the government, patients and the pharmacy financial benefits.

It’s like saying, “I wish people would get sick so I can profit from selling them medicines,” compared to “I hope my medicine relieves your pain.”

The outcome can be similar, but the mindsets are degrees apart.

As a remarkable pharmacy leader, Debbie Rigby, once asked me, “Are pharmacists retailers in a health environment or health professionals in a retail environment?”

Please allow me to explain what the answer is.

We are Australians. We are a diverse group of people, but amid our diversity we all live and breathe under the same stars of the Southern Cross.

Whether we are in Government or are health care professionals, we all have a moral obligation to improve the lives of the people of our nation. This is a fundamental platform we must all agree upon without compromise, because the very moment one of us compromises on health, it could be the health of my dear two-year-old daughter Amari (who has her daddy wrapped around her pinky) or my loving neighbour Di, it could be your precious child or the mother who sacrificed her all to raise you and proudly watch you grow to become an amazing minister, economist or health care professional, whose health is at risk.

We must always keep in mind that our most valuable currency is not savings on the national budget or the profits we make (though these are helpful additions), it is the positive effect we have on people’s lives. So let us re-calibrate our compasses, find a bigger ship that we can all fit in and sail towards a healthier future for the love of our nation and its people.

I call for a national health care forum, where we can unite our minds beyond remuneration and look beyond budgets and profit so that we can discover ways we can collectively propel our nation towards a healthier future and stimulate a sustainable collaborative approach to caring for people’s health.

I also (cheekily) call for Stephen King to challenge me to a one on one debate: Economist versus Health Care Professional. Come on, Stephen, let’s finish what you started!

Mouhamad Zoghbi is the author and founder of ‘The Prescription For Pharmacy’.  Contact him at


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  1. David Boucher

    Great post mate. You’ve got your head around this. Keep at it. Eventually you’ll get them listening. Perhaps a series of short videos. Talk to Richard Field. KPI 4. Cheers David

  2. Mohammad Zoghbi

    Thank you for your kind words David, Health care professionals and the government must unite towards protecting the future health of our loved ones, after all, they are the valuable people of our nation.
    David, please send my love to your family and I look forward to seeing you soon.

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