‘Are they on a power trip?’


Pharmacists are “overstepping moral boundaries” by asking their patients questions, a freelance writer has claimed

Using examples from the US where pharmacists had conscientious objections to dispensing certain medicines, freelance writer Sophia Irvine has complained about being asked about medicines and health conditions in pharmacies when picking up medicines.

“Despite having a code of ethics, pharmacists are becoming more invasive in-patient privacy causing discomfort and embarrassment,” the article, published Monday in Independent Australia, claims.

She uses the example of codeine, following the 1 February 2018 upschedule of low-dose combinations of the drug.

“So, codeine is off the market and only available via a doctor, who writes you a prescription, a brief description of why you are on the medication, which you take to the pharmacy and Bob’s your uncle, right? Wrong,” Ms Irvine writes.

“What proceeds is a two to five minute (depending on the medication) question and answer session, consisting of why you are on the medication and have you taken it before, and did you know it’s addictive?

“It’s stated on the prescription why you’re on the medication and the two other questions have obviously been answered and explained by the doctor — unless your practitioner is Dr Seuss. So, doctors aren’t trustworthy now and the chemist is the moral compass of our health.

Consult your local pharmacist for further questions. No, thank you, we spend an unfair amount of time and money to go to the doctor to have all these questions asked and then all our questions answered.”

She also queries why one patient was asked by their pharmacist why they had changed antidepressants, why the dose was now greater and whether the patient was taking the recommended amount of the medicine.

“Mental health is difficult to talk about, even with those you pay to help you,” she writes.

“It feels invasive having to explain mental conditions to your pharmacist when the job has already been done with the doctor who changed the medication and dose.”

Another patient was asked, “How’s your back?” by their pharmacist when dispensing a painkiller, for which the script read, “back pain”.

“It would take you off guard when someone you have never met asks you a question about your health; you forget they have that little piece of paper with your medical issues on it.

“‘Fine, thank you, with the medication. Without, not so good,’ answered the customer. Reasonable, right? Question answered, thank you for caring, may I please leave now?”

This customer was reportedly “shocked” that the pharmacist suggested hydrotherapy and replied that the problem was arthritis.

“The medication was handed over pretty quickly after that and the pharmacist faded into the abyss, probably Googling if arthritis can be treated by hydrotherapy.”

Ms Irvine cites the PSA’s Code of Ethics, and asks whether, “with codeine out of the pharmacist’s hands and placed safely within a doctor’s prescription pad, have our chemists taken this code of ethics to a whole new level to ensure they are doing their part in keeping Australians away from addictive medication?”

“Even though their power has been lessened in the issuing of addicting medication, their questions and involvement in the act of handling this and other medication have increased.

“Do they and the Government not trust our doctors? Or do they feel the need to insert themselves in medical situations ro whidh (sic) they are no longer privy?

“Or, are they on a power trip because donning that white coat means no patient will be allowed to receive the medicine they have been prescribed without being thoroughly quizzed and a little embarrassed?

“At this rate, it’s possible by 2030 we will be asked to provide a blood sample in order to obtain tampons, a written and signed doctor’s certificate that we are sexually active so we are allowed condoms and stool samples in order to get laxatives, since they, too, are addictive.”

While they are not referred to in the body of the article, the piece features social media posts about incidents in the US where two pharmacists refused to give women who were miscarrying a script to manage the process; and an NBC news article citing cases where pharmacists refused to dispense based on their religious beliefs.

Several readers who commented on the article questioned Ms Irvine’s stance.

“I think this is the most ridiculous article that I have ever read in the IA,” wrote one reader.

“There has obviously has been very limited research done and just quotes anecdotal stories of people. I have major health issues (MS, arthritis) and I have been going to the same chemist/pharmacist for 20 years and I honestly trust him more then (sic) my GP or doctors that I see regularly.

“When ever I have a question for a doctor they rarely take the time to explain certain things, but I then go to my chemist and he always takes the time to explain properly of what has been bothering me regarding certain medications/treatments.”

Another wrote that, “The actions described in this article are, to me, very valid actions of the Pharmacists by providing a safety check on the medications prescribed by a medical practitioner”.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild said: “Unfortunately this author does not give much credit to – nor display much knowledge of – the clinical and ethical responsibilities of a pharmacist when dispensing a prescription medicine”.

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1 Comment

  1. Richard Werkhoven


    This is actually why we have Pharmacists.

    They are there to explain the use of the medications, they are also there to catch any mistakes by the doctors.

    Pharmacists are trained in the medicines and the doses appropriate, the doctors less so.

    They can and do find that a doctor has over prescribed by dose etc. and they will ring the doctor to check if anything is wrong.

    So no they are not over-stepping their role!!! THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB!!!!

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