The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia has backed the pathology health screenings rolled out through Sigma’s Amcal Pharmacy network this week
Sigma Healthcare has partnered with SmartHealth to roll-out the service, which began on Monday 26 June, utilising their network of 1,500 accredited participating collection centres and laboratories throughout Australia.
Allowing people to access valid pathology testing through pharmacies will allow those not visiting their doctors to be screened for common chronic health issues, says Dr Michael Harrison, President of the RCPA.
“These are limited mainstream tests, mainly for detecting cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, for people who – for whatever reason – are not getting testing done through the usual system.
“It’s hard to know why, but some people don’t see their GP for testing, they don’t visit their GP very often or, if they do, the GPs don’t order these tests,” he tells AJP.
Dr Harrison says identifying high cholesterol levels and other markers can help to arrest the development of serious but common health issues such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Since the tests will be sent to a laboratory the results will be scientifically valid, a process Dr Harrison says is much more accurate than point-of-care tests, particularly regarding cholesterol screening.
The results will be placed on the patient’s My Health Record for healthcare practitioners to access.
Any abnormal results will prompt pharmacists to refer the patient to a doctor, and in the case of very abnormal results, these will be passed along to a GP enlisted in the program to help follow them up.
Dr Harrison says this process ensures something is done about abnormal results, so that people with any serious health issues don’t fall through the cracks.
“These are valid tests, validated in a laboratory, with a mechanism to deal with abnormal results,” he tells AJP.
“By doing this the tests are actually compliant with the college guidelines. If it wasn’t scientifically valid then the college would not approve.”
Dr Harrison has pointed out to AJP that he works for Sonic Healthcare, which runs SmartHealth, and says this may be perceived as a conflict of interest.
The service has, perhaps unsurprisingly, received criticism from doctors’ quarters.
Some doctors have called the service “unethical”, adding that incorrect interpretation of the results by a non doctor could potentially result in litigation as well as harm to the patient and their family.
Others have suggested that pharmacists taking on vaccinations and blood testing spells the end of the medical profession.
One reader on Australian Doctor commented “I believe we are witnessing the arrival of Uber Docs, aka pharmacists“.
Dr Harrison chalks this up to the usual ongoing “trench warfare” between GPs and pharmacists.
“This is an area that’s under-serviced, and these tests provide another mechanism or avenue to get tested,” he says.
“I have a concern that there are a lot of people out there not getting screened for common diseases like high cholesterol or early diabetes. So I think anything that’s a valid process is worthwhile.
“Also, it’s a cost to the individual who chooses to pay for it out of pocket, not the government or public purse.”
Pharmacists will be required to complete a pre-screening questionnaire as part of the Standard Operating Procedure for this service, says a spokesperson for Sigma.
“This ensures that the patient is appropriate for, and will benefit from the test, as well as ensuring that the pharmacist screens for any immediate referral triggers which may require the patient to be referred to a GP instead,” the spokesperson tells AJP.
“This pre-screening process is in line with the PSA Professional Practice Standard 16. Following this process enables Amcal pharmacists to provide a high-quality service which empowers patients to re-engage with their GP or specialist leading to better health outcomes.
“The selection of tests available through Amcal pharmacies, along with the pre-screening questions, has been developed in conjunction with SmartHealth to limit the risk of over screening or unnecessary testing.”
The price list for each test is as follows:
|Diabetes Health Check|
Comprehensive – RRP $99.50
Standard – RRP $99.50
Comprehensive – RRP $149.50
|General Health Check|
Standard – RRP $99.50
Comprehensive – RRP $219.50
|Heart Health Check|
Comprehensive – RRP $99.50
|Kidney Health Check|
Comprehensive – RRP $54.50
Comprehensive – RRP $89.50
“The costs to patients are listed in the table above and the cost of service provision is analogous to that seen under Medicare where the government funds the testing and the GP consultation – as this is a user pays service, the patient pays the full amount,” explains the Sigma spokesperson.