Pharmacy groups have expressed disappointment at an article which warned consumers of the “dangers” of in-pharmacy health checks
On Monday morning Fairfax media carried an article which quoted Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victoria chair Dr Cameron Loy, who told reporter Esther Han that the public should avoid such tests.
“They’re making health a commodity and further fragmenting Australia’s healthcare system,” Dr Loy said.
“Health checks are not comparable to buying toothpaste, hair dye or vitamins, but part of the ongoing continuity of care, the long-term engagement, that general practice delivers.
“These pharmacies are motivated by money, the opportunity to have more people in the store to buy other things.”
He said that if pharmacies made reference to GPs in advertising these tests, they were being misleading as this implied the two professions worked closely together.
Dr Loy later told the AJP that “The RACGP is concerned the walk-in, quick-stop health checks being advertised by Australian pharmacy chains could fragment patients’ healthcare and put them at serious risk”.
“While fast, free advice may sound appealing to many patients, I urge them to consider where they seek medical care and advice.
“GPs work closely with their patients to provide preventive healthcare solutions. This relationship is unique to general practice and cannot be replicated in quick, walk-in appointments.”
The Pharmacy Guild responded by urging the RACGP to focus on what is best for patients: “working collaboratively with all health professionals including pharmacists”.
It called the comments in Fairfax media “alarmist attacks” which were “regrettable and unnecessary” and undermine the working relationships between pharmacists and GPs around the country.
“Health checks conducted within pharmacies should always be within the scope of practice of pharmacists, with a view to collaboration and referral to other health professionals including doctors as required,” said Pharmacy Guild national councillor and Victorian Branch president Anthony Tassone.
“Community pharmacies work closely with local GPs in the interests of patients, and appropriate health checks performed in pharmacies can be an important way to identify those at risk and refer them back to their doctor – whom they may not have seen for some time,” Mr Tassone said.
“Not everybody has a regular GP, but community pharmacies are helping refer patients to a GP every day across Australia. That’s the value of our community pharmacy model making it the most visited and accessible and trusted primary healthcare destination in the country, he said.
“I would urge the RACGP to work with us to ensure the best results for patients.
“We saw this kind of push back from some doctor groups when pharmacist flu vaccinations were first rolled out – and the reality now is that pharmacist flu vaccinations are an accepted and beneficial aspect of our health system, significantly raising herd immunity against influenza,” Mr Tassone said.
“So we’d like to see this kind of rivalry put aside so we can all be making the best possible contribution to our health system.”
Mr Tassone also took to the airwaves to defend the profession, telling 3AW Breakfast that this was “not a new criticism, it’s ongoing”.
“It’s a real shame to wake up to one of your health colleagues making inferences and criticisms and saying that pharmacists are only interested in making money and also referring to other goods that we provide in the pharmacy,” he said.
He said he was unaware of any instances where patients were given wrong information in pharmacies as a result of health checks.
Instead, “I’ve had instances where I’ve actually called Triple Zero on the spot for a gentleman who had a extremely high blood pressure reading,” he said.
Pharmacies putting patients in contact with a GP was an everyday occurrence, Mr Tassone said.
“Unfortunately there are some patients who don’t even have a regular GP,” he said, so pharmacists as an entry point to the health system could “only be a good thing”.
Meanwhile the PSA said that, “As long as there is a turf war over who delivers patient care, patients will suffer”.
The RACGP’s attack on pharmacy health checks does not take into account the fact that these services are within a pharmacist’s scope of practice and build on the accessibility of the community pharmacy network, it said.
“Countless pharmacies across the country have excellent working relationships with their local GPs.
“As readily accessible healthcare professionals, pharmacists are many patients’ first port of call. Pharmacists use health checks to refer patients who are potentially at risk to a GP, when those patients might otherwise avoid or delay doing so.”
Dr Jackson said the Coroner’s Findings from the recent inquest into the death of a Victorian patient demonstrated the importance of the relationship between doctors and pharmacists.
According to the coroner, “Doctors and pharmacists should trust and respect each other, whilst retaining their independence.
“Similarly, whilst pharmacists should respect the doctor-patient relationship, they should not underestimate their own importance in the delivery of health care.”
Dr Jackson said, “We cannot afford to ignore this call for GPs and pharmacists to continue building respectful working relationships.
“We urge the RACGP to put aside such misdirected professional rivalries and focus on collaborating to improve Australia’s health.”