GPs issue health check warning

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?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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