Australian doctors have slammed pharmacists for their move into the pathology screening market, sparking a war of words between the two healthcare branches over the blood testing kits.

In an extraordinary broadside, the Australian Medical Association issued a statement today describing pharmacy pathology tests as “opportunistic and wasteful”, claiming they bypass GPs and put patient care at risk.

“We have been watching the continuous march of pharmacy into areas beyond its traditional scope of practice into areas such as vaccinations. This move goes too far,” AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone said.

“This is more than worrying – it is opportunistic, wasteful and bordering on irresponsible. It makes absolutely no sense on any level, and is only fragmenting care and discouraging continuous, life-long care. It is the antithesis of the medical home model of care. Pharmacists are simply not trained to assess whether a patient requires a pathology test.”

But pharmacists returned fire, claiming the testing is evidence-based, meets unmet needs in the community, is appropriate for a pharmacy setting and is provided by trained pharmacists.

National President-elect of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Dr Shane Jackson, also called on the doctors’ advocacy organisation to engage with other healthcare professionals with respect.

“In response to comments from the AMA, we also highlight the need for comments from organisations in healthcare to be constructive, respectful and to not diminish the existing standing of healthcare professionals in the eyes of the public,” Jackson said.

Over 100 Amcal chemists began offering the Sigma Pathology Health Screening packages for diabetes, heart disease, kidney function, general health, fatigue and vitamin D deficiency this week.

Priced from $25 to $220, the screening kits do not attract the Medicare Benefits Schedule rebate, which means patients pay for what would be free with a doctor’s referral. But medical appointments can incur costs and require time away from work.

“The opportunity for consumers is obvious as it represents a highly accessible avenue into the healthcare system through community pharmacies, just as we see consumers getting flu vaccinations in a pharmacy when they would otherwise have not been vaccinated,” Jackson said.

Sonic Healthcare provides the pathology services through its SmartHealth network of 1500 participating collection centres and laboratories. Pharmacists earn an undisclosed ‘administrative fee’ absorbed into the cost of tests. Patients with abnormal results are referred by pharmacists to their GPs.

But doctors remain concerned by what they see as an unhelpful advance into the healthcare diagnostic space.

"This kind of opportunistic health testing only caters to the worried well, without reaching those most at risk or in need of preventive health care,” Bartone said.



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