King report: You’re still a ‘chemist’

pharmacy staff

Consumers hold pharmacy in high esteem… but their understanding of the sector has flaws

The Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation has released four reports on the external advice provided to it by consultancies.

These include quantitative and qualitative research which examined consumer attitudes, expectations and experiences of consumers interacting with community pharmacy.

The quantitative report found that prescription, OTC and readily available medicines were seen as pharmacy’s core product offering, and that overall, many of the services provided in pharmacies were not well known.

And consumers were still reluctant to pay for pharmacist advice, the report found.

“Half of these consumers (48%) indicated they are well aware of the pharmacy services and programs that are personally relevant, but many others were uncertain (44%),” the report found.

“Most of this sample believe that little-known services, such as ATSI programs and outreach services, should be available (76% and 85% believing they should, respectively), though few expected to access them themselves.

“Least support is expressed for services such as wound care (69%) or the issuing of medical certificates (57%).

“For those interested in accessing particular services, there was a willingness to pay for some of these services.

“This however is not the case for pharmacist advice about treatment or medicines – the vast majority of these consumers (at least 90%) claimed to want to access this advice but few (just 10%) indicated a willingness to pay for it.”

This report also showed that there is “appetite” for a more clinically focused pharmacy environment. Dispensing or clinic-style pharmacies were preferred, usually by the majority, over a pharmacy environment with an equal or larger focus on retail.

Nearly half believed that creating a healthcare atmosphere instead of a retail atmosphere should a requirement of pharmacists, “given they receive government payments to dispense PBS medicines”.

The qualitative report, which drew on in-depth interviews with 196 members of the public, found that “pharmacies are often referred to as ‘chemists’ by the Australian public, especially so among older people. Indeed some did not immediately understand the term ‘pharmacy’ as applying to their familiar ‘chemist’.”

Most consumers accepted that a wide range of front-of-shop lines are available, with only people who had experienced different health systems internationally really noticing that personal hygiene needs and the like can be met alongside medical needs.

“By and large, this was seen as just the way things are, though some do query whether this has gone too far.”

One women described pharmacy as “a mini health clinic, as well as a mini supermarket”.

The report found that many consumers use pharmacy as a place to obtain guidance before going to a GP, or as a triage or referral point for other services, helping them decide whether to see a GP or emergency department.

It also showed that pharmacists themselves overall enjoy significant goodwill from consumers.

“Pharmacists (or ‘chemists’ as they are often known) are widely considered to be a positive component in the care of people’s health and a familiar fixture in the Australian health landscape – the ubiquity of community pharmacies in central locations no doubt impacts this familiarity.

“The position of the pharmacist is imbued with a sense of clinical trust, or trust in clinical knowledge and care, though the extent to which people hold this trust varies.”

Positive perceptions were particularly found among people who depend more heavily on medication for chronic conditions, or who at some point had depended on medicine for an acute condition.

“These people, who are regular pharmacy customers, can hold a view of pharmacists as being caring community health practitioners and, in some cases, develop strong relationships with their pharmacist. Many participants in this research mentioned instances where the pharmacist was seen to have extended themselves purely in the interests of the patient’s health and wellbeing.”

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