Does a pharmacist serve patients or customers?

thinking face

What AJP readers said about the tribunal ruling

A few days ago AJP covered a tribunal ruling that found one particular pharmacy at least may not be primarily a health care destination and its pharmacists may not necessarily be providers of health services.  

One part of a case relating to the development of a new medical centre and its ancillary pharmacy involved the number of car parking spaces that were allocated to medical professionals.

In his ruling, Tribunal Member Bill Sibonis stated that: “The relevant car parking requirement is that applying to a medical centre, and this is based on the number of persons providing health services.

“On the question of whether the pharmacist is a person providing health services, within the particular facts and circumstances of this case, I am persuaded that they are not,” he found.

“Unlike professionals such as GP, physiotherapist, and dentist, the pharmacist doesn’t diagnose and treat people’s health conditions.

“A person served by a pharmacist is not a patient but a customer.”

Here’s what you had to say about his comments:

“Legal semantics; pharmacists help and treat patients everyday across multiple healthcare settings.”
Shane Jackson

“What an awful opinion to have, I feel like he has a lesser opinion of pharmacists. Heaven help him if he needs medical attention late at night on weekends when the other health professionals aren’t open. I’m sorry but I call them patients, I am not solely a retail worker and do not treat the people in my pharmacy as such either.”
Olivia R.

“Well aren’t our customers lucky that they get treated like patients!!!!!!”
Andi H.

“What rubbish.”
Rebecca C.

“Oh really?”
Dr Shawn Bridley

“Clinicians who take histories and provide treatments and are now prescribing in many countries. A step back in time. Public awareness needed.”
Fiona J.

“This is completely wrong on so many counts.”
Karalyn Huxhagen

Ludicrous. A dispute about parking spots turns into dissing a profession? Just silly.
ONPrimaryCareTeamRPh, Ontario, Canada

“Until pharmacists stop being shopkeepers (and specifically discount-store shopkeepers) the people they serve will always be customers.”

Will dispensing machines detect prescribing errors? This is an insult to a noble profession which is optimising the use of medicines and helping patients by its expertise.
Tasneem S.

“This decision is absolute rubbish and demeans the profession. How can a pharmacist allow themselves to be demeaned in this way unless they have sold out to the dollar over their professionalism. This is not just about one’dispensary’ in one location – this decision will have huge flow-on ramifications.

“I hope our professional bodies will take issue with this devaluation of pharmacists as health care professionals and stand up for the profession to get this classification of pharmacists overturned!!

“A pharmacist IS a health practitioner who does ‘diagnose and treat’ health conditions – for any pharmacist to provide opinions to the contrary is selling out the profession, and in my opinion, should be run out of the profession.

“Pharmacists have worked long and hard to build recognition as health professionals in their own right – this single decision (just to reduce the number of parking spaces needed!!) has the potential to set the entire profession back decades. This should be a rallying call to all pharmacists who value their profession and careers.”
Greg Kyle

“One can presume that it is not within the capacity of a State-based tribunal to re-interpret the legal definition in a Commonwealth Act of Parliament, as to what a pharmacist is or does, and then utilise that interpretation in a way that ends up contradicting the statutory definition of pharmacists and their roles within the health system in Australia!

“To briefly summarise what we already know, namely the legal definitions of pharmacists and their roles in health services, as defined under The Health Practitioner Regulation National Regulation. National Law Act 2009: At Part 1 Preliminary 5 Definitions, it states: “In this Law—health profession means the following professions, and includes a recognised specialty in any of the following professions—( and it lists under (K)- pharmacy);

Also “health service includes the following services, whether provided as public or private services”—( and it lists under (d)-pharmaceutical services):

Also, “health service provider means a person who provides a health service.” Quite precise legally and seemingly unambiguous and not open to re-interpretation, I would have thought!”
Ron Batagol

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NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Andrew

    Could be interesting to run a count or word cloud on “patient” vs “customer” in article text and AJP comments. Do ed or mods have access to the libraries?

  2. Red Pill

    Well I hate to break it to you guys but The Guild certainly disagrees with your comments. According to Guilds submission to FWC, we are a retail shop first and foremost operating within a retail environment, serving customers and should be getting paid accordingly. If our own representative body thinks we are a retail shop then its fair for the judge to think the same.

  3. Pete

    General modern lingo is that they are ‘health consumers’, visiting a doctor, pharmacist or brain surgeon. Customers and patients are so last century.

  4. Kishore Chand

    Bill Saponis is obviously out of touch with reality or he lacks understanding about health services
    Such person should never be on Tribunal
    What a shame

  5. Paige

    They’re patients if they have a script or are getting a scheduled medicine ‘, and customers if they arent.

  6. Bob Smith

    Pharmacists do not treat patients… They are in the service business. If they can’t deal with that fact they should have received a medical degree. It takes years to practice medicine. Pharmacist today have a very inflated opinion about what they actually do. They think that a four year degree, no residency and the experience that brings makes them qualified to make decisions about people’s health. They do HELP the physician with interactions and look out for the CUSTOMER to not over pay for a med that’s available at a lower price. But they actually have become a problem by inserting themselves between the doctor and the doctor’s PATIENTS. We have to have pharmacists and they are a cog in the healthcare wheel, but the power trip some have today is off the chart. My son is about to graduate from medical school at South Alabama (and I’ve practiced for 23 years) and he’s heard one horror story after another about pharmacists today. The problem is worse today than in the past and it’s because of millennial attitudes of entitlement. Pharmacists do not have to fill anything if they don’t “feel comfortable.” Ok, but no legitimate prescription should be denied unless there’s an extremely obvious reason —harm resulting in filling the prescription—anything short of that should be addressable by a state board if they refuse. It should be an ethics issue. I’m sympathetic to pharmacists when it comes to controlled substances, however other meds which are denied for shallow, selfish reasons (which I’ve seen lately) should come with accountability. I’ve also seen some of the most socially backward personalities bouncing off people in their time of sickness—and it makes me want to cringe. Reading the bloated, self-absorbed replies putting pharmacy inline with practicing medicine is an example of that narcissism on display. If you want to practice medicine, do what’s required OR do the job you’re educated for—with a smile—or do something else.

    —Dr. Bob

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