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14 Jul 2017

The AMA has welcomed the decision by Sonic Healthcare to withdraw from an in-store pathology screening program launched last month by Amcal pharmacies.

Describing Sonic’s decision to pull out of the program as being in the best interest of patients, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the pharmacy pathology model was wrong on many levels.

“The primary health care system in Australia is built on a medical model of life-long continuity of care, preferably with a usual GP or general practice,” Dr Gannon said.

“This is the model being championed by the Government with its Health Care Homes trial.

"Fragmenting care by allowing non-medical health professionals to attempt to do the work of highly trained doctors is dangerous and irresponsible.

“It puts the health of patients at risk, and it increases the out-of-pocket health costs for families.”

The pharmacy screening program was launched by Amcal last month and immediately labelled by the AMA as “wasteful and opportunistic”.

Following a backlash from GPs, Sonic announced in early July that Sonic Healthcare and its subsidiary SmartHealth would no longer be a pathology provider for the Amcal program.

“The program was developed in line with the Health Department’s initiative to promote in-pharmacy health screening services, with the common goal of identifying at-risk patients not in treatment and referring them into the primary health care system,” Sonic announced in a statement.

“However, many GPs expressed concerns about the initiative, and we have decided to withdraw from the program.”

The pharmacy screening tests can cost between $25 and $220, with no rebate under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) for the patient.

Dr Gannon has encouraged corporate pharmacy groups to follow the responsible lead taken by Sonic.

“It takes years of training and specialised clinical judgement to determine whether a patient needs a pathology test, and to interpret and manage the test outcome. That is work best done by a GP,” he said.

“Health checks, screening activities, and diagnostic tests should only be conducted if they are clinically indicated, backed by evidence, and cost effective.

“They must benefit patients and not incur unnecessary costs. GPs are best placed to make these decisions.

“The AMA acknowledges the highly valued and specialised role that pharmacists play in the health system, and the collaborative role they have with their local GPs.

“But the health system – and the health budget – are best served when all health professionals operate within their scope of practice to provide the best possible care for patients.”

Sigma Healthcare, Amcal’s parent company, has described the outcome as disappointing.

The service offered by Amcal involved more than 100 pharmacies offering a range of screenings from diabetes to more comprehensive blood count tests including for heart, kidney, thyroid and liver functions, as well as for such things as fatigue and vitamin D deficiency.

CHRIS JOHNSON

 

 

 

 

 

 


Published: 14 Jul 2017