Addressing pharmacy’s ethical dilemma

The Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation should address concerns over the possible conflict of interest between pharmacy’s retail and health care roles, bioethicists believe.

In an article entitled ‘Health professionals as vendors: the commercial erosion of evidence and ethics’, the three experts take issue with media reports claiming Pharmacy Guild of Australia national president George Tambassis had said attempts to limit or otherwise disincentivise front of shop activities were ideologically-driven and would dismantle a good system – “which he defined on the basis of positive customer satisfaction surveys and the high level of trust in pharmacy professionals,” they said.

The bioethicists argue this view is wrong “on a number of counts”.

 “First, simply labelling an argument as ‘ideological’ is not a sufficient basis for its refutation. Indeed, complaints that arguments are “ideological” are usually themselves ideological,” they said.

“Second, the fact that there are high levels of trust in a particular professional group does not mean that the trust is informed or valid (i.e. reflective of the fact that pharmacists genuinely have their customers’ best interests at heart) – or that this trust cannot be eroded.

Third, while customer satisfaction may be a valid measure of commercial or professional transactions these ratings do not necessarily reflect the quality of professional care or the impact of transactions on health and wellbeing.”

They believe the Guild view misses “the moral anxiety that underpins the questions posed in the Discussion Paper—that commercial activities of pharmacists and pharmacies might ultimately undermine both their professional standing and their contribution to public goods”.

However not only pharmacy is the target of the ire, with the group also criticising doctors who “frequently engage with, and benefit financially from, their interactions with industry in both research and clinical settings.

The most obvious example of this—and the one that has attracted the greatest attention—is the relationships that medical professionals have with the pharmaceutical industry. Another example is the growing number of doctors practising “integrative medicine”, some of whom also sell supplements and various other kinds of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs)”.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia did not wish to comment on the Croakey article

The article was published on health website Croakey

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