Two key medical associations have challenged the authority of supermarket health checks for cholesterol and blood pressure, currently being trialled in Woolworths stores.
Both the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia have criticised Woolworths’s foray into medical services. The free health checks are conducted by pharmacy students and nurses. Currently the supermarkets are not legally allowed to supply prescription drugs, but they do sell over-the-counter medicines. The head of the Pharmacy Guild, George Tambassis, has expressed concern about the qualifications of the staff Woolworths has hired to do such checks, whilst also stating that it is hypocritical for tobacco and alcohol retailers to claim an interest in health care. Meanwhile the President of the AMA, Associate Professor Brian Owler, suggested that it was ‘dangerous’ if those conducting the tests were not fully qualified, also that it may encourage people to think they do not need to see their doctors.
The scheme is being trialled in NSW and Queensland, with plans to expand nationally in due course.
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald website.
Read more at the ABC News website.
At a time when most Australians are about to be forced to pay a $7 co-contribution when they visit their GP, the idea of a ‘free’ health check sounds appealing. But just as there is no free lunch, this initiative is probably neither free nor healthy. As always, it’s worth asking ‘Who benefits’ when an idea such as this is put into action. So what’s in it for a supermarket to offer a free health check? Currently the sale of prescription medicines is restricted to pharmacies, but the supermarket chains have been pushing to have this changed. Could this be the first step on the way to securing such a change? And while prescription drugs are not allowed, there are aisles of over-the-counter medications which a cheerful health checker might recommend.
The more important point, though, is that a qualified General Practitioner is able to make a full diagnosis based on your medical record and the information you impart, privately, in his or her surgery. So whilst your cholesterol and blood pressure may be fine, your doctor may suggest a range of other tests, or pick up clues about an underlying malady during a checkup. Having a student or nurse send you on your way, with a smile and recommendation that you purchase some disprin, happy in the confirmation that your blood pressure and cholesterol are just fine is NOT a substitute for a regular medical checkup. It’s just two random tests which mean little in isolation from other general health indicators. So whilst this ‘free’ service may seem very appealing to those who are time-poor or cash-strapped, it may also prove to be a dangerous misreading of someone’s health, and discourage them from visiting a qualified professional who can pick up early signs if something is amiss. We know the supermarkets have conquered fuel sales, are doing well with insurance and heading into the banking sector, but surely medicine is a bridge too far?
What do you think? Are the ‘free’ health checks in supermarkets a great customer service? Or do these retailers have a hidden agenda? Would you use one as a substitute for a GP visit?