This study by Australian pharmacists, assessed the quality and relevance of community pharmacists’ information gathering (questioning), counselling and product selection when interacting with customers requesting a s0-called alternative medicine (SCAM) product for stress and consequently determine whether Australian pharmacy practice indicates the need for guidelines similar to those provided for ‘pharmacy only’ (S2) and ‘pharmacist only’ (S3) medicines.
A covert simulated patient (SP) was used to investigate the response of pharmacists to a request for a natural product for stress. The SP documented the details of the pharmacist-simulated patient interaction immediately on leaving the pharmacy and then re-entered the pharmacy to debrief the pharmacist. The quality of the interaction was scored as a Total CARE (check, assess, respond, explain) Score, based on anticipated questions and counselling advice. The appropriateness of the product was scored as a Product Efficacy Score, based on evidence-based literature.
Data from 100 pharmacies was provided. Information gathering illustrated by the questioning components Check and Assess (C and A) of the total CARE score by pharmacists was poor. The number of questions asked ranged from zero (13 pharmacists) to 7 (four pharmacists), the average being 3.1 (SD 1.9). Provision of advice was generally better (a description of the suggested product was offered by 87 pharmacists) but was lacking in other areas (duration of use and side effects were explained by only 41 and 16 pharmacists respectively). The most common product suggested was B-group vitamins (57 pharmacists) followed by a proprietary flower essence product (19 pharmacists). A two-step cluster analysis revealed two sub-groups of pharmacists: one cluster (74 pharmacists) with a high Total CARE score provided an appropriate product. The other cluster (20 pharmacists) had a low total CARE score and provided an inappropriate product.
The authors concluded that the pharmacy visits revealed major shortcomings in questioning, counselling and product recommendation. There is a need to develop guidelines for pharmacists to make evidence-based decisions in recommending SCAMs.
This paper offers a host of interesting information. For instance, it reveals that almost all pharmacists recommended at least one product for sale, about half of them recommended more than one. Considering that the evidence for most of the products in question is weak (to say the least), this seems concerning.
The second most recommended product, the ‘Bach Rescue Remedy‘, is perhaps a good case in point. There is no evidence that it has any effect on stress or any other condition. As the product contains no active ingredient, it is also implausible to assume it might work beyond placebo. Yet, many pharmacists are happy not only to sell it to the unsuspecting public, but even to recommend it to a customer who seeks out their advice.
I find this quite intolerable.
The paper thus confirms the point I have made repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere: community pharmacists seem to behave like commercially motivated shopkeepers, yet they are healthcare professionals who have to abide by an ethical code. When confronted with this overt conflict of interest, their vast majority seem to opt for violating their professional ethics in favour of profit.
I fail to understand why, despite these facts being well-known for so long, the professional organisations of pharmacists are doing do very little to rectify this appalling situation.