Take CMs more seriously, urges entrepreneur

Tom Bailey
Tom Bailey.

When working in community pharmacy proved to be not quite the career choice that he’d hoped, Tom Bailey decided to change his focus to preventive health

Now, the former pharmacist and My Vitamin Packs founder is encouraging the profession to take back control of the complementary medicines section, rather than leaving it for front-of-shop staff.

“I liked a lot of aspects of pharmacy, I loved making jokes with the old fellas that came in and listening to their stories, but pharmacy wasn’t for me,” says Tom Bailey.

“I graduated from James Cook University with a Bachelor of Pharmacy specialising in Sports medicine in 2012. I was half way through my internship and although I loved the degree to be honest I wasn’t enjoying the day-to-day pharmacist role.

“My interest gradually shifted from ‘treatment of chronic diseases’ to ‘prevention of chronic diseases’ and this then eventuated into becoming fascinated with natural health remedies, nutrition, exercise and vitamin supplements as a component of preventative health and less about medications and treating the issues that arise from neglecting these.”

He teamed up with Chris Feather and Phil Nakkan to found My Vitamin Packs, which uses leading CM brands in customised packs designed for each individual customer’s needs.

The idea came from Mr Bailey’s efforts to help his partner at the time, who had chronic knee pain and was getting little relief from regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs and prescribed exercises.

“I bought her all these combinations of vitamins and had her taking them every day, but she never remembered to take all of them and we had containers everywhere,” he says.

“It was disorganised, she would always forget and struggle to remember what to take and when. So I called up a pharmacy and bought some foils and plastic trays commonly used for aged care patients, and every week I made her little weekly packs so she never forgot. She loved it and left it by the bathroom sink so she never forgot.”

And it’s the expertise he gained in pharmacy that allows him to do so while picking up on potential interactions and contraindications in each case, he says.

“I stay up most nights looking over our client’s health assessments and checking patient’s answers before I recommend anything. I then email their recommendations and even then I still suggest they run these past their doctor before doing anything just in case I’ve missed something they didn’t mention in the assessment.

“Now I have to wait until morning to send the emails off because customers were complaining they were getting email notifications on their phone at 3am!

“We process all orders through pharmacy, so they get checked by a pharmacist as well. We involve pharmacists a fair bit.

“I think pharmacy has really taught me to listen; people often listen to someone without ‘really listening’ and only waiting for their turn to speak.

“It sounds simple but listening isn’t a skill that’s really that common in many professions and during my studies and working in a pharmacy that was really embedded into me. Listen to the patient before you recommend anything.”

Mr Bailey says that he can understand why there has been controversy of late as to whether complementary medicines should be sold in pharmacy, particularly given that a pharmacist isn’t always involved in the sale.

“A lot of people selling these are doing it in a retail pharmacy setting and the people selling the vitamins aren’t the pharmacists, it’s the people on the counter, who are highly knowledgeable as well but are also under pressure to upsell and sell more front of shop stuff like vitamins.

“As pharmacy has evolved, the margins on prescription medicines has dropped to the point where there’s pressure to upsell, and it’s become more of a retail experience.

“I think they need to take vitamins away from that and bring them back to the medicinal side of things. Get more involved, go to events like APP – the discussions about vitamins there were really good – and find out what place they can really have in the pharmacy, rather than leaving them to the customer to decide on.

“They get a bit lost out there, the person goes through the aisles and thinks, ‘I saw this on Dr Oz, maybe it’s good’… they need guidance.”

Mr Bailey also cautions that most people need to take CMs for some time before they start to see benefit.

“I think anyone that’s stuck to taking the right vitamins for long enough would agree they feel a lot better,” he told the AJP.

“Even if you consciously choose to eat ‘healthy’ you still wouldn’t get the same nutrients from the food you eat as your grandparents did.

“For example a recent study showed that you would need to eat eight oranges to match the same vitamin C of one orange that your grandparents would have had, and nutritional discrepancies don’t stop there: there’s a lot of foods that are lacking the same vitamin and mineral content they did 40 or 50 years ago.

“There needs to be some sort of way we meet that deficit and vitamin supplements are the easiest way to do that.

“I’m not saying to get all your nutrients from vitamins, that would be crazy. Treat them purely as a ‘supplement.’ They should supplement a good diet and healthy lifestyle, not replace or compensate for one.”

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