Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Community Pharmacy in Australia

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Community Pharmacy in Australia

Article excerpt


This article describes the evolution of community pharmacy in the Australian health system, and assesses its current and potential future contribution to health care. A central theme is the unique extent and accessibility of community pharmacy to the public, with a vast and dispersed infrastructure that is funded by private enterprise. The viability of community pharmacy as a retail trade depends on a diversification of its service roles and retention of its product-supply roles. Initiatives by the pharmacy profession, the pharmacy industry and the Australian Government are likely to give community pharmacy an increasingly prominent place in health promotion and primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, especially in relation to the management of chronic diseases.

Aust Health Rev 2004: 28(2): 238-246

The place of community pharmacy in the health care system

Community pharmacists are unique in that they make up a large professional body of individuals who are vocationally trained at university level, fully accredited by state and territory registration boards, subject to Australian Government and state and territory government regulations, work in a retail environment handling a multiplicity of health care products, have extensive interactions with other health professionals (especially the medical profession), and balance the delivery of professional services with the supply of a wide range of products and the management of retail business.

Traditionally, pharmacists and pharmacies have been the main suppliers of medicines for the Australian population. Increasingly, however, the pharmacy is becoming an important source of a wide range of health care services in the community. People perceive pharmacists as highly reliable advisers on many personal health matters, trustworthy independent purveyors of health care products, and steadfast partners of the medical profession. This has been clearly shown in national and international literature on consumers' views and experiences of community pharmacy services (Aslani, Benrimoj & Emerson 1999).

Community pharmacy practice in Australia is highly regulated through state and territory Pharmacy and Pharmacists Acts and through the National Health Act 1953 (Cwlth). Regulation covers the registration of pharmacists, acceptable courses of study to become a pharmacist, and ownership and location of pharmacies.

As at 30 June 2002, there were 4926 approved community pharmacies (chemists' shops) in Australia (Pharmacy Guild of Australia 2004). Because of their wide distribution in cities and all major towns, pharmacies have become the most accessible points of contact for individuals with the health care system. People can enter a pharmacy without an appointment, can expect to receive professional attention almost immediately, and retain a high level of control over the extent of their engagement with the pharmacist. In contrast, people who consult a doctor often need to make an appointment in advance, often have to wait, and often surrender personal control in the course of the doctor's history-taking and physical examination. While these two types of professional encounter usually differ in their scope and intent, pharmacy offers a convenient encounter with the health system for many purposes.

The role of community pharmacy is becoming increasingly diversified, with a proliferation of professional services in addition to the traditional supply role of dispensing medications. Six types of community pharmacy services have been identified (Emerson, Whitehead &r Benrimoj 1998):

* Provision of drug information. Pharmacists provide drug information to patients when medications are dispensed, either in written form (mainly using Consumer Medicines Information) or as spoken advice (Koo, Krass & Aslani 2002). This advice can improve patients' understanding of medications and awareness of adverse effects, and improve adherence to prescriptions, resulting in better health outcomes. …

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