Do customers want convenience store pharmacies?

Japanese convenience store Lawson
Image courtesy Lawson.

A convenience store stakeholder is urging Australia to look towards the Japanese experience and allow dispensing and health consults in the channel

Following a report in Fairfax Media over the weekend and a response by Pharmacy Guild national president George Tambassis, Jeff Rogut, CEO of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, has restated that consumers want pharmacies in these stores.

On Saturday, he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that “When we do surveys of our customers, pharmacy ranks up there with things like postal services as one of the top items they would like to see in a convenience store”.

“The reason why is because of the extended hours, the ability to park easily, get in and out quickly and do all the things they want to do … it would save them time and be more convenient.”

He also said that a concept like those seen in the US, with CVS or Walgreens-style drugstores, would be “warmly welcomed” by convenience store operators.

Mr Tambassis wrote to Fairfax in defence of the location and ownership rules, citing services such as pharmacist flu vaccination, medicines adherence programs, health advice and screening.

“These aren’t the sort of services you could get at a Seven-Eleven wedged between the Krispy Kreme doughnuts or next to the alcohol or cigarettes that supermarkets sell,” he wrote.

Mr Rogut has since posted a statement on the AACS website, following up the Fairfax article for convenience store stakeholders.

“In Saturday’s media there was discussion about possible deregulation of pharmacy and I was approached for comment,” Mr Rogut wrote.

“In previous research we have done pharmacy was noted by customers as one of the additional services they would like to see in convenience stores.

“As society and lifestyles evolve, customer needs are changing, to keep abreast and in some cases ahead  of these changing needs, we must seek out opportunities to take convenience stores to the next level. 

“In Japan as an example, some ‘Natural Lawson’ stores [Lawson has over 14000 convenience stores in Japan] have a dispensing pharmacy and provide professional services, including acceptance of prescriptions, provision of health consultation services by pharmacists, and sales of OTC medicines.

“Our stores are mostly open 24 hours – so should our minds be open towards new ideas and concepts to better serve our customers.”

In response, Dr Evan Ackermann, past chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care, has told newsGP that many S2 and S3 medicines are close to being OTC, and could “probably” be permitted some wider distribution.

“Limiting these sort of drugs to pharmacy- or pharmacist-only has just pushed the prices up,” he told the RACGP publication, adding later that any such step would need to be subject to a review.

“Pharmacists are supposed to establish a diagnosis or establish a reason for people taking Schedule 2 or 3 medications, but they often don’t.”

However, he said it would be inappropriate for S4 drugs to be dispensed outside of pharmacies, he said.

And Dr Mark Morgan, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC-QC) told newsGP that as long as patient safety was not compromised, pharmacy deregulation could increase choice and access, and thus be a positive step for consumers.

“My view is that pharmacists are best engaged as part of GP-led primary care teams providing medication education for patients, dispensing expertise and working with GPs on medication governance,” he said.
“I would like to see a defined role for pharmacy assistants so they are not serving up pseudo-medical advice to sell products of little benefit.”

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