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What complaints do the public make about pharmacists? And how do these complaints differ from other health professions? 

Newly published research has shed light on the demographics of complaints about pharmacists and how these differ from other health professions.

A team from the University of Sydney analysed 12,616 complaints made to AHPRA and NSW state health bodies between 1 July 2012 and 31 December 2013 across five major professions (another recent study reported on inter-professional differences in serious misconduct hearings, as reported by AJP)

Clinical care was the most common complaint, accounting for 44% of all cases. However, for pharmacy the most common complaint related, unsurprisingly, to medications.

In total there were 633 complaints about pharmacists in this period. Of these, 61% related to medication, which were broken down to the following:

  • 45% concerning inappropriate, unlawful or inaccurate dispensing,
  • 4.5% to inappropriate supply,
  • 3.2% to inappropriate administration,
  • 2.9% to refusal to prescribe or dispense
  • 2.2% to inadequate counselling or information about medication 

“To a large extent the most common types of complaints across professions match their work tasks and work environments,” the authors said. “Medications were the second most common complaint, and not surprisingly this was the most common complaint for pharmacists.”

The other leading causes of complaint for pharmacists were:

  • Offence (7.5% of complaints) – with 4.3% relating to a drugs or poisons offence
  • Health impairment (6.4%) – most commonly mental illness (2.7%) or misuse, abuse or addiction (2.6%)
  • Communication (5.1%) – most commonly for disrespectful manner (2,2%)
  • Clinical care (3.7%)

“Even though communication is an integral component of patient-centred care provision, ‘communication’ was a commonly cited complaint in medicine, pharmacy and psychology professions,” the authors said, “implying that perhaps professional development and tertiary education need to be more considerate of how clinically relevant and important information is provided to patients.”

In terms of demographics, the researchers found that male pharmacists were over 150% more likely to be the subject of complaint, mirroring the findings of the serious misconduct study. Across the five professions studied, males were 120% more likely to be subject to a complaint, compared to female practitioners.

Males were more likely to experience a complaint about medicolegal conduct, boundary crossing, billing, informed consent and clinical care. Females were more likely than males to have a complaint about health impairment, confidentiality, behaviour and medication.

Pharmacists who were born in Africa were 71% more likely to be subject of complaint, and this occurred across all professions, where those from Africa and the Middle East were subject to a relatively higher rate of complaint than those from other backgrounds.

The research was published in Australian Health Review

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