GPs issue a warning over pharmacy health checks

Australian GPs have issued a warning on free health checks.

Australian doctors have issued a warning to anyone placing their health in the hands of pharmacists, saying chemist health checks are fraught with danger.

Walk-in tests, such as those offered by Priceline, Terry White and Amcal chemists present a long-term risk to patients’ health, says the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

While the tests are often free and fast, and include diabetes assessments, heart health and cholesterol checks, doctors say they are offered to attract customers who may then spend money in store.

But it’s a claim disputed by pharmacists.

“It is not our agenda to sell products to those who participate in these screenings and we do not encourage our network of experienced pharmacists to utilise these health checks as an opportunity to sell products,” said an Amcal spokesperson.

RACGP Victoria chair Cameron Loy disagrees.

“They're making health a commodity and further fragmenting Australia's healthcare system,” said Dr Loy.

“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.”

Dr Loy went on to say that, while there may be no immediate dangers, patients must consider the long-term risks.

“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,” he said.

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

He also hit out at pharmacies that make misleading claims of working closely with GPs on tests.

“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 said.

“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.”

Pharmacy spokespeople have rebutted the RACGP’s warning, claiming that these services bridge a gap for those who can’t afford to visit a GP, and that pharmacists who are trained to offer medical advice can actually encourage patients to ‘re-engage’ with their GP. 

“These health checks are simply formalising the service and advice provided by pharmacists to their patients every day,” said a Priceline spokesperson.

“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.”

Read more at SMH

Do you use free health checks? How much faith do you place in them? Do you agree that pharmacy health checks are an affordable way to keep abreast of your health?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    2nd Jul 2018
    Heard a GP commending the idea and I agree with her. Pharmacists know more about the side effects of drugs and the chemist I go to gives me the time to list the side effects. As for tests many people are time poor and if this is one way of having free health checks then that is I good. I am sure that pharmacists will encourage toe customer to attend their local GP there was in issue oc write note on the computer for the GP to view,
    2nd Jul 2018
    Pharmacies are out to make money, and doctors are not?
    The RACGP is the most successful and venal union in Australia, it has so much power it stifles anything else and for many decades seems to have been totally in the clutches of Big Pharm.
    However Pharmacies sell much more of big Pharm's output than doctors, interesting to see if they will continue to protect the doctors.
    2nd Jul 2018
    Drs. are terrified of losing patients to Pharmacists! Drs. like their waiting rooms full to the max.! The medical system is -IMO - one of the biggest "money making cash cows" ever!
    Once a person is unfortunate enough to get on what I perceive/call - the "Medical Merry-go-round" - they never get off! Drs. will actually do their best to "find" something wrong - if they can't - they simply schedule more blood tests for 'this/that" or send you off to the next "person/specialist" to see if they can find something! It's appalling!

    Best to be savvy and manage your own health - eat well - drink in moderation - exercise and stay away from Drs.! (Unless of course there is a major issue.........) 'til that time surely there is nothing wrong with advice that a Pharmacist gives?? Rather go to a Pharmacist any day than a Dr.!! Just my personal opinion........... :-)
    2nd Jul 2018
    In the US doctors are so expensive that the pharmacy is the first port of call for many. The Pharmacist will know if you then need a doctor or not.
    I agree with you.
    Also the limiting of doctor numbers means you can wait days to see a doctor anyway.
    2nd Jul 2018
    Q: What's the difference between God and a doctor?
    A: God doesn't think he's a doctor.
    3rd Jul 2018
    I spent some years in the Pacific islands. We were particularly well served by a chemist in Rabaul New Britain, & another in Honiara in the Solomons. The pharmacists had been there years & knew all the things new chums & old timers tended to suffer from.

    At various times you would get new chum doctors, who tried to practice Sydney or London medicine, which sometimes just didn't work in the tropics.

    On the other hand at the hospitals in both places they practiced old time often very cheap medicine, which worked as well as the much more expensive treatments favoured here.

    2nd Jul 2018
    I had two tests from a Priceline machine. The first test showed my blood pressure and heart rate were bad. I did another test straight after and the results were excellent Overall the machines are great because they provide a correct weight and height measurement.

    I recommend to get different doctor’s opinions too because they all are business and rely on machines too.

    I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes six years ago and was told diabetes is for life by a specialist at the diabetes foundation.

    Recently, I went to a diabetic type 2 research program at a hospital and was told I do not have diabetes. I was not even pre diabetic.

    My daughter was told by a doctor she had a lump in her breast which my daughter could not feel. The doctor advised her to and get a breast scan at a specific centre that did not bulk bill so she went to another place that did. She was advised there was no lump and every thing was healthy.

    When my daughter went back to the doctor she was told off by the doctor for not going to get tested at the place she had sent her to.
    2nd Jul 2018
    ... I found your comment re diabetes interesting - purely for the fact that a "finger-prick" test can put a person at say at - 5.7 - BUT ....

    .....then go to a GP tell him/her that and they suggest a Blood Glucose Fasting Test - which then delivers results at - 8.01 - which is classified as "Diabetic" (so my friend said? - not 100% sure apologies)

    ....then told you need a Dietician for 6 weeks meal planning (go once a week for 6 weeks) get weighed etc. or whatever they do? Prior to any medication being prescribed......??

    .... this is happening right now to a really dear friend of mine and I am just reiterating what she has told me......and she is really in panic mode right now ..........apparently her GP wants more blood/urine tests also ...I mean......on the "merry-go-round"??

    So what I am trying to ascertain is this:- Pharmacist does Finger Prick Test - you all OK (not diabetic) - GP does Fasting Test - you "Diabetic"??? Huh?? Sorry guys I just "don't get it"???

    Does this mean Pharmacists are telling people they are ok when they are really not??
    2nd Jul 2018
    As someone with type 2 diabetes, one must not do the finger-prick test less than 2 hours after your previous food intake, lest the blood glucose level reading be artificially high. If fasting, the reading is likely to be lower due to hypoglycaemia.
    Crystal Clear
    2nd Jul 2018
    Make sure it is the qualified pharmacist doing the tests and not just one of the untrained assistants- often part-time casuals.
    2nd Jul 2018
    Good advice!
    2nd Jul 2018
    This is all part of a turf war between GPs and pharmacists. Pharmacists cannot treat disease or conditions or prescribe medication (they just dispense it) so any adverse finding from a finger prick blood test will result in the advice to see a doctor.

    If having an adverse cholesterol test for example, sends someone to their GP for further investigation, that is a good thing surely.
    2nd Jul 2018
    I agree. I have found pharmacists totally professional, helpful and courteous. I have never had other than excellent advice and service.
    It's also possible that clients visiting pharmacies for assistance may avoid clogging up the Emergency room with colds.
    2nd Jul 2018
    Mostly I agree, Jennie. But there are exceptions: the McBeath Pharmacy at Westmead Hospital in Sydney is appalling - the rudest bunch of creatures you'd ever be unfortunate enough to encounter, their General Manager being the worst. Avoid them like the plague! Priceline staff, by contrast, are excellent.

    2nd Jul 2018
    I trust my GP because he has all of my history going back decades and, at times, has been able to offer a quick diagnosis (always has been correct) because of knowing that past history. I am sure that pharmacists are able to carry out checks and I have no issue with that but my personal preference is my GP.

    I find it interesting that anyone studying pharmacy at university needs a higher pass in the HSC is than those who wish to study medicine. One more than one occasion I have had our pharmacist query a GP's scrip because of a clash in medication. As I see it, they are both competent in what they do, it's just that there is a different emphasis on what a GP does and what a pharmacist does. They seem to work together to bring about the best result for the patient.

    2nd Jul 2018
    It's all about profits - loss (in the case of doctors), gain (for pharmacists). Doctors are complaining because they might lose revenue. Pharmacists want it because people in the pharmacy might spend money.
    2nd Jul 2018
    My GP suggested it was time for a glucose tolerant test. I said "Oh no not that awful test that I ended up with a bad headache!" The doctor didn't mention it again.
    2nd Jul 2018
    I've been seeing the medicos at my local medical centre for the past 4-5 months about a red raised lump on my leg above my inside ankle, and have been diagnosed with infection, and put on a course of antibiotics - no help; then diagnosed with skin irritation and put on cortisone cream to be rubbed in 3 times a day - no help; given an ultrasound for the veins - nothing; then an ultrasound for the skin - nothing. I got sick of all this, and pushed for a referral to a dermatologist, who I found myself. She said not the skin, but could be the veins. Decided to see a vein specialist, and my cousin told be of a good vascular surgeon, who took one look and diagnosed venous insufficiency from further up the leg, which he is in the process of treating. None of the medicos at the medical centre referred me on to either of these specialists, I had to push for referrals. Even the last GP, when I asked for the referral to the vascular specialist, told me it was an infection and gave me a script for yet more antibiotics. I doubt that the pharmacists could do any worse with their diagnoses and treatments!!
    3rd Jul 2018
    Maybe some positive benefit.

    Antibiotics require a doctors script so going to the chemist for some feel better alternatives may reduce antibiotic usage.

    Wouldn't like to risk diagnosis of children's health issues, but with adults who have a better idea of how sick they are, there is stuff for treatment of the "crab louse" or work related dermatitis or eyes nose and ear treatments etc.

    There is a bit of a grey area as to what items of clothing a person should remove, to allow the chemist to look at the problem.?

    Wouldn't like to see things like skin cancer misdiagnosed. I wonder what sort of liability insurance Chemists would need to have.
    3rd Jul 2018
    Many good points made in some of the posts above and I guess the real worth of the service offered by either the doctor or the pharmacy comes down to the ethics and integrity of the provider. I can't help thinking though that the doctors are quite aggressive when it comes to defending their turf as evidenced when nurse practitioners here tried to set up in private practice - they were put firmly in their place by the medicos who cited all sorts of reasons as to why it wouldn't work. Nurse practitioners would seem to be almost as highly trained as doctors and would mostly have had much more real-world medical experience than at least newly qualified doctors. In the USA NPs perform roles that would be the exclusive preserve of GPs here and would provide a worthwhile and more affordable service to many people who couldn't afford to see a doctor without expensive health insurance.
    7th Jul 2018
    I think they are a great idea, many would not consider going to the doctor because of the time and cost, so if something is picked up by the pharmacists I am sure they recommend you to see a GP.
    I also think doctors are only complaining because they fear loss of income.
    Pharmacists also know more about medication and I would always ask them for more information before a doctor.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles

    You May Like