Pharmacies criticised over in-store health check-ups

Concerned doctors are warning Australians to stay away from walk-in health checks at local pharmacies, claiming the services could be putting customers at risk.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has criticised pharmacies such as Priceline and Amcal for cashing in on in-store health check-ups, saying their motivation for extra profit is ignoring the long-term harmful dangers of potentially misdiagnosing patients and giving incorrect advice.

“They’re making health a commodity and further fragmenting Australia’s healthcare system,” RACGP Victoria chair Cameron Loy told the Sydney Morning Herald.

But the Pharmacy Guild of Australia dismissed the comments and argued the attack from the college was influenced by the RACGP’s “self-interest delusion” to keep their own waiting rooms busy.

“Pharmacists are not trying to take their business. They are trying to maximise their input into the health system,” guild spokesperson Greg Turnbull told AAP. “Doctors need to get over it.”

In Amcal pharmacies, the Heart Health Check program is advertised to “help you spot the signs of an unhealthy heart” based on a nine-point checklist. Some of the factors include kidney health, weight management, smoking, diabetes, sleep and blood pressure. The chain also states it will advise on “any further action” as well as suggest lifestyle changes that may be necessary to improve your heart health.

Priceline similarly performs weight evaluations, blood pressure readings, anemia screenings and cholesterol tests in its Health Check service. It also offers advice on other aspects of health, including how to conduct breast checks and general discussions about personal diet and exercise.

Are pharmacy health check-ups safe?

Dr Loy said the in-store services do not necessarily provide any immediate danger. But warned there are still long-term health risks for people who turn to their chemists for a check-up, rather than visit their GP for a regular health check.

“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,” he told Fairfax Media.

“If you’re asking if there is a long-term danger for somebody not being across their healthcare needs and not having a GP reviewing them regularly and understanding their health needs over time, then yes, there are dangers.

“These pharmacies are motivated by money, the opportunity to have more people in the store to buy other things.”

Mr Turnbull rejected the claim and argued that in-store health checks do not pose any risk to customers.

A Priceline spokesperson expressed her disappointment about the warning issued by the college, especially as pharmacists have been trained to offer medical advice.

“These health checks are simply formalising the service and advice provided by pharmacists to their patients every day,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Priceline pharmacists are continually referring patients to their GPs … and provide a valuable service in their local communities by offering a triage process, rather than a diagnosis, through screening patients, offering expert advice and often referring to a GP.”

Dr Loy said he disapproved of pharmacy advertisements referring customers to their trusted GP as it suggests a close working relationship between doctors and pharmacists, with advice from pharmacies also misleading a number of patients about different health concerns.

“I’ve had patients who have done health checks somewhere else and they’ve been left confused by the results because they don’t make a lot of sense, they haven’t been contextualised,” he explained.

“You’ve got to remember that pharmacies may do things differently – tests for cholesterol without fasting, height and weight without any context – and the question is whether they are producing good health outcomes.”

“The pity of it is that most doctors and pharmacists have good relationships,” Mr Turnbull told AAP.

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