CMs: people-oriented health care, or undermining integrity?

CMs in half an orange

The King Review discussion paper released yesterday has shone a light on the complementary medicines sector, querying whether it is appropriate for these products to be sold in community pharmacy.

“It was put to the Panel that community pharmacists face conflicts of interest between their role as retailers and as health care professionals,” the panellists, Professor Stephen King, CHF’s Jo Watson and pharmacist Bill Scott wrote.

“this tension between treating consumers as customers or patients was attributed to the contrast in the remuneration from dispensing and the revenue generated from the sale of over-the-counter medicines and complementary products.

“The Panel has heard that some consumers are concerned that pharmacists may compromise on the level of professional advice provided to patients on the quality use of medicines and feel financial pressure to ‘up-sell’ to consumers, for example by recommending medicines or products that may not be necessary for the patient.

“It was also claimed that many complementary products do not have evidence-based health benefits and as such, the sale of these products in a pharmacy setting may misinform consumers of their effectiveness and undermine the professional integrity of community pharmacists.”

Carl Gibson, CEO of Complementary Medicines Australia, told the AJP that providing complementary medicines is an important part of people-oriented health care.

“Approximately 70% of Australians use complementary medicines, mostly alongside conventional medical treatments, to help improve health and wellbeing, and with about half of this use being in relation to the management of major chronic diseases,” Gibson says.

“Increasingly, individuals have been seen to take a more proactive approach to healthcare, becoming more confident in self-selection and willing to take preventive measures to support their health.

“Data from 2015 indicates that Australian consumers still prefer to purchase their complementary medicines from pharmacies due to a large offering of product range and the availability of professional advice from the supervising pharmacist or healthcare professional (Roy Morgan Research, 2015. Checking the Health of Australia’s Vitamin Market, Melbourne: Roy Morgan Research).

“As noted by Health Minister Sussan Ley:  ‘The reality is more and more people are turning to their pharmacist not just for prescriptions, but services like wound management and advice on how they can incorporate complementary medicines into their overall treatment regimes’,” he says.

“The World Health Organisation Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 highlights the potential contribution that complementary medicines can make to people-centred healthcare through the appropriate integration of complementary medicines into the healthcare system.

“The growing consumer demand for products and services that fall outside of orthodox prescription medicines should not be ignored or denigrated; rather consumer empowerment and people-centred health care should be vital elements of health in Australia.”

The King Review included several questions pertaining to CMs, including:

  • Does the availability and promotion of vitamins and complementary medicines in community pharmacies influence consumer buying habits?
  • Should complementary products be available at a community pharmacy, or does this create a conflict of interest for pharmacists and undermine health care?
  • Do consumers appreciate the convenience of having the availability of vitamins and complementary medicines in one location? Do consumers benefit from the advice (if any) provided by pharmacists when selling complementary medicines?

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