Health stakeholders have taken aim at pharmacists in a Four Corners investigation of complementary medicines
Swallowing It, which featured interviews with the King Review chair Professor Stephen King, Chemist Warehouse’s Damien Gance and AMA president Dr Michael Gannon, suggested that pharmacies were undermining public trust by stocking unproven CMs for financial reasons.
“A lot of community pharmacies… are trying to get more revenue out of front of shop,” Stephen King told Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson. “And front of shop means the complementary medicines, the vitamins, the perfumes, the other products that they supply there.
“We have had passionate community pharmacists decrying their fellow pharmacists for stocking complementary medicines, for stocking vitamins, for stocking homoeopathy, for stocking products that have little if any medical credence.
“We’ve also had many other pharmacists saying, ‘What’s wrong with this? At least we can give some medical advice. If you come in for Horny Goat Weed or St John’s Wort and that’s going to cause a problem, at least there’s a pharmacist there who can talk to you about it.’
“So we’ve had passionate arguments put on both sides of this case.”
The return of Coke and fries?
Mr Thompson, referring to the 2011 “deal” between the Pharmacy Guild and Blackmores—which Professor Ken Harvey referred to as “a way of increasing sales”—said that “now the Coke and Fries idea is back, in the form of a new software program”.
The software in question was PharmaBuddy, which Mr Thompson described as “used by some pharmacists to increase their profits by selling complementary medicines with prescription drugs”.
Mr Thompson also spoke to Chemist Warehouse’s director and founder Damien Gance.
“We have a very simple philosophy, and that is we provide what the consumer’s after,” Mr Gance told Four Corners. “That will be within some limits, but for the most part if the consumer wants something to help them to be well, get well, stay well, we’ll provide it.”
Mr Gance said that if the customer is after complementary medicines, he is happy to provide them.
Professor King said that the discounters have turned the traditional pharmacy model, with most revenue flowing from the dispensary, on its head.
“They’re certainly putting pressure on the traditional community pharmacy.”
And AMA president Dr Michael Gannon said that when pharmacists sell non-evidence-based products, this gives these CMs legitimacy.
“Their margins are tight and I think there’s more and more evidence that they do make the majority of their income from the other things they sell, and the problem lies when they sell things that are potentially useful, potentially harmful,” Dr Gannon says.
“When we look at the most trusted professions, year on year on year, I’m proud to say that at the top is doctors, nurses and pharmacists, so that respect has been hard won.
“That’s put at risk if they’re being seen to promote treatments that are increasingly… the average consumer recognises as a load of rubbish.”
PSA and the Guild both responded yesterday to the ABC story as well as an investigation by Choice, which was also referred to in the Four Corners piece.
The PSA’s Joe Demarte said that, “pharmacists must ensure that consumers are provided with the best available information about the current evidence for efficacy, as well as information on any potential side effects, drug interactions and risks of harm”.
Meanwhile, the Guild’s George Tambassis said that, “pharmacists, as highly trusted health professionals, have a duty of care to be aware of available clinical evidence that supports the therapeutic and marketing claims made about products sold in their pharmacies”.
Watch the full story here.
Image: Four Corners