Pharmacy Customers Perception of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Pharmacies

By Darcy Cowan 05/08/2010

Going through the papers cluttering my inbox I found this survey of Australian pharmacy customers relating to their use of CAM and their impressions of how pharmacists should approach the subject.

Regular readers of Sciblogs may remember a kerfuffle earlier in the year regarding the sale of homeopathic remedies in pharmacies, I and others were uncomfortable with these items being sold in pharmacies to begin with. Fortunately, when surveyed homeopathy didn’t make it into the top ten modalities used in the last 12 months, though 3% noted that they had seen a homeopath.

This survey was published in BioMed Central‘s journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. I might point out that I disagree with the authors views of Complementary Medicine (CM) but I agree with many of the conclusions of the survey, though I suspect for different reasons.

The survey included data from 1,221 respondents from 54 pharmacies that cover both rural and urban areas. Beyond that the methods aren’t particularly interesting, people filled out forms.

Findings of the survey showed that a significant number of pharmacy customers think that it is important for pharmacists to be knowledgeable about CM and to know about their customer’s CM use. I would agree with this, pharmacists should be aware of how CM is marketed and of the claims made on order to give customers appropriate advice on effectiveness. Another result of the survey that helps with this point is that almost 70% of respondents agreed that they trust their pharmacist’s advice regarding CM. This reveals an excellent opportunity for education of the public regarding these modalities.

In addition many of the respondent felt comfortable telling pharmacist about their CM use whereas previous research has shown this not to be the case for patients of other medical practitioners. Again this is an opportunity for pharmacists to assess the safety of CM modalities their patients are using, especial in conjunction with other treatments (this was also a conclusion of the survey).

That said, the survey also revealed that many customers rely on family and friends as information sources. This accords with with existing research on the importance of personal anecdote in making decisions. Next most popular were medical doctors (not bad) and in third place (disturbingly) was the media. Pharmacists were in 6th place after naturopaths and pharmacy assistants. While far down on the list pharmacists still rank and one of the important sources of information and should not be under estimated.

One of the questions that I disagree with the majority of respondents on is regarding the inclusion of natural medicine practitioners in pharmacy practices. To me this is inviting abuse of the pharmacist’s position of authority, it might even undermine some customers trust of the institution (I’d certainly think twice about any pharmacy that did this). At the very least it may allow pharmacists to divest themselves of the responsibility to actually learn about the alternative products they may be selling.

In conclusion, I consider the results of this survey important to keep in mind when considering the role of pharmacists in the field of CM. Pharmacists are in a somewhat unique position to educate the public regarding CM as a consequence of the level of trust afforded to them by customers. It also reveals that pharmacies are vulnerable to particular abuse for exactly the same reason, products sold in pharmacies are lent an aura of respectability by association.

It behoves pharmacists to take seriously the responsibility to be current on the debate around the safety and efficacy of CM modalities and be able to confidently relay this information to customers. No longer should pharmacists sit on the sidelines while irrationality invades their practice, hiding behind public demand as an excuse for not taking a stand for science based therapies.

Braun, L., Tiralongo, E., Wilkinson, J., Spitzer, O., Bailey, M., Poole, S., & Dooley, M. (2010). Perceptions, use and attitudes of pharmacy customers on complementary medicines and pharmacy practice BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 10 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-10-38

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Filed under: Alternative medicine, Medicine, Psychological, Sciblogs, skepticism Tagged: Alternative medicine, BioMed Central, health, Health and Medicine, Homeopathy, Medicine, naturopathy, Pharmacy, Physician