CAMs: meeting consumer needs

Pharmacy support staff sell complementary medicines with the aim of meeting consumer expectations, but may not consider evidence of product efficacy, research suggests

Australian pharmacy academics conducted interviews with a representative selection of patients and pharmacy support staff and concluded that consumer pre-purchase expectations were a major influence on both patients and staff.

Pharmacists were expected to provide recommendations to match product and patients, and to stock a wide range of these products.

The study, consisting of in-depth interviews with 33 Brisbane consumers, revealed that they expected pharmacists to recommend the “right product for the right person”, and to contribute to the information gathering process of consumers.

“Consumers look to pharmacy staff to confirm their information and to provide expert product knowledge and access,” the authors said [author’s italics].

“What consumers expected from the pharmacy was expert product knowledge and advice regarding the product they had in mind.”

The authors from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Queensland also interviewed 20 support staff from a range of different pharmacies.

These interviews revealed that pharmacy staff also sought to ensure consumers received the “right” product to complement their expectations.

However it found a lack of evidence of these staff evaluating the reliability of the efficacy claims for these complementary medicines.

Instead, pharmacy support staff relied on a range of sources to assess these medicines, “including personal experience, consumer reports and sponsor information.”

The findings suggested that “pharmacy support staff… expressed a limited moral sensitivity in relation to the sale of complementary medicines,” the authors said.

“Very few participants were sensitive to the ethical questions that arise when selling health products that lack sufficiently rigorous external evidence of effectiveness.”

They suggested this could be rectified by appropriate training that included understanding of the assessment of prescription medicines and some of the complexities and contention surrounding the assessment of complementary medicines.     

The article was published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice

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