AMA letting legislators know its views on pharmacy review
Below is an edited version of the AMA’s submission to the Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation Review Interim Report.
Overall, the AMA considers the recommendations, if implemented, will benefit consumers by improving access to affordable medicines and enhancing the quality of medicines related care provided by pharmacists.
The AMA’s submission focuses on the recommendations and options described in the interim report which impact patient care.
The recommendations and options relating to patient access to medicines and their experiences within pharmacies appear sensible and well considered.
In particular, the AMA supports:
- improvements to the PBS Safety Net which would enhance patients’ understanding and access, for example, the introduction of a central electronic system that automatically tracks individual patient PBS expenditure;
- audits of pharmacy compliance with medicines dispensing requirements, such as correct medicines labelling and the provision of Consumer Medicines Information leaflets, in line with State/Territory legislation and Pharmacy Board of Australia and Pharmaceutical Society of Australia guidelines; and
- improvements to electronic prescription systems and medication records to enhance continuity of care and reduce medication errors. However, the AMA notes that prescribing software would require updating to enable full electronic prescribing and that a small, but still significant, proportion of medical practitioners do not use these systems, especially in rural/remote locations with poor internet connections.
The AMA supports the Review recommendation that homeopathic products should not be sold in PBS-approved pharmacies. Selling these products in pharmacies encourages consumers to believe they are efficacious when they are not.
The AMA notes the interim report proposal that if pharmacists provide a service that is also offered by alternative primary healthcare professionals, the same Government payment should be applied to that service. While a service may superficially appear the same, it is important to recognise that the delivery, quality and comprehensiveness of that service may differ between health professionals and the context within which it is provided.
For example, a patient administered a flu vaccine in a pharmacy just receives a flu vaccine. A patient receiving a flu vaccine administered by a General Practitioner also receives a preceding consultation which includes a health assessment specific to that patient, based on a sound understanding of the patient’s past history and health needs.
This might include a check whether the patient’s other recommended vaccinations are up-to-date, whether a cervical screening test is due, a blood pressure check if appropriate, a check of the patient’s adherence and tolerance of any prescription medicines, and any other appropriate and (evidence-based) opportunistic preventative health care.
Even if the General Practice employs nurse practitioners to deliver the vaccine itself, a patient has first been assessed by a General Practitioner who continues to be close at hand if needed.
If the Commonwealth Government were to consider paying pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to high risk populations, the services provided by a pharmacist and a medical practitioner in this context would not be equivalent.
Clearly there would also need to be research on whether flu vaccinations in pharmacies are cost-effective in comparison to a flu vaccination in a General Practice clinic given the value-add provided in the latter service.
Any cost-benefit analysis would also need to take into account the indirect costs of delayed or missed diagnoses leading to higher cost care, that are more likely when care is fragmented by patients relying on health care provided by a pharmacist.
The AMA agrees with the recommendations in the interim report that government-funded services should be evidence-based and cost-effective. Pharmacy-based services that do not meet these criteria, such as the Amcal’s Pathology Health Screening Service targeting “relatively young and fit customers … for general health purposes … as opposed to risk assessment or diagnosis” should not be eligible for government funding.
The AMA’s earlier submission to this review expanded in some detail regarding the push by the Pharmacy Guild, motivated by revenue generation, to expand the scope of practice of pharmacists into the provision of medical services.
The AMA has already stated its views on the barriers imposed by current pharmacy location rules in its previous submission to the Review, and in numerous earlier submissions to Government. The AMA supports changes to pharmacy regulation which would allow more pharmacies and medical practices to be co-located. The current restrictions are inflexible and are difficult to justify in terms of public benefit.
AMA understands that the Australian Government has entered into an agreement with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to continue indefinitely the current protections the rules provide to Guild members. However, the AMA is disappointed that the Government has made this decision despite the obvious benefits that would accrue by allowing access to high quality primary health care services in a way that is convenient to patients, enhances patient access and improves collaboration between healthcare professionals.
Facilitating collaboration between medical practitioners and pharmacists will only improve patient outcomes through less medication mismanagement and better medication compliance.
The AMA agrees there are benefits in future community pharmacy agreements being limited to remuneration for the dispensing of PBS medicines and associated regulation. This would allow pharmacy programs, such as medication adherence and management services currently funded under the Agreement, to be funded in ways that are more consistent with how other primary care health services are funded.
Given these programs are about providing health services, rather than medicines dispensing per se, it makes sense for them to be assessed, monitored, evaluated and audited in a similar way to medical services under the MBS.
Approximately $1.2 billion has been provided to pharmacies under the current community pharmacy agreement without this level of transparency and accountability. No evaluations of pharmacy programs under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement have been made public.
Moving pharmacist health services outside of the Agreement would also open the way for more flexible models of funding, for example, support for pharmacists working within a General Practice team and other innovative, patient-focused models of care.
The AMA would also welcome inclusion in future consultations undertaken prior to the finalisation of the next community pharmacy agreement, as proposed in the Review interim report. The AMA recognises the valuable contribution pharmacists make in improving the quality use of medicines.
Pharmacists working with doctors and patients can help ensure medication adherence, improve medication management, and provide education about medication safety. The AMA fully supports ongoing and adequate funding of evidence-based pharmacist services such as home medicine reviews and the provision of dose administration aids.
It is important that Government-funded pharmacy programs are monitored and evaluated for effectiveness and cost effectiveness to ensure the expenditure provides tax payers with value for money. The findings from these evaluations will help improve and strengthen the programs.
The AMA fully supports the recommendations made to enhance access to medicines programs for Indigenous Australians and to support Aboriginal Health Service pharmacy ownership and operations.
The full submission can be found at: