Who is the real winner in the latest stoush between pharmacists and doctors?

Last week a state Pharmacy Guild president made a few negative comments about general practice. I thought it was neither here nor there, but what happened next was interesting.

I could not find the original column (admittedly I didn’t look very hard) so I can’t verify his exact words but apparently, he said that increased funding for GPs will only incentivise five-minute ‘turnstile’ medicine.

Most GPs would not have read or been aware of the column until, on the eighth of February, Australian Doctor Magazine, owned by the Australian Doctor Group (ADG), posted an article on their website titled “Pharmacy Guild says GPs working ‘turnstile operations’ filling time-slots with easy patients.”

Then all hell broke loose. There were 170 comments on the article from mostly angry GPs.

A few days later, on the eleventh of February, Pharmacy News published this piece: “Guild takes aim at GPs who favour wealthy, healthy patients”. 

Interestingly, Pharmacy News is also owned by ADG.

Then the response came. On the thirteenth of February a reply penned by the RACGP president was published. And you guessed it, that same day Australian Doctor posted: “Turnstile, cream-skim medicine? RACGP hits back at Pharmacy Guild.”

The ADG publications got hundreds of clicks and views of their website content out of the latest stoush between pharmacists and doctors.

Good on them, one could argue. But hang on, there’s more to it. The ADG website explains how it works:

“We know that GPs are increasingly time-poor and less reliant on [pharmaceutical] sales reps,” says Bryn McGeever, Managing Director of Australian Doctor Group. “They’re looking elsewhere for information.”

“While readership of medical print publications remains strong, digital channels are becoming increasingly popular with almost eight in 10 GPs now reading online medical publications monthly.”

“In recognition of this continuing shift in GP behaviour, Australian Doctor Group last week launched AccessPLUS, a bespoke digital sales channel designed to fill the space left behind as rep engagement continues to fall.”

And the real winner is….

It is sad, but not surprising, that the medical media are fuelling the tensions within primary care. Of course, like other media, ADG is just doing its job. I do wonder how many GPs and pharmacists are aware that they are the product on sale here.

I have had my fair share of altercations with the Pharmacy Guild – but it’s a road to nowhere. I prefer to listen to people like pharmacist Debbie Rigbie, who rightly says, “We must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.”

14 thoughts on “Who is the real winner in the latest stoush between pharmacists and doctors?

  • Harry’s reply was published in the colleges news publication wasn’t it? Semantics I guess. I see your point but my fundamental issue is this one. You’re still on council to my knowledge: you have much easier access to the president of the college than all of us. I’m not sure how firing another digital salvo (which will be picked up by Aus doc I am sure) builds any bridges at all rather than adding more fuel to the fire. You could have picked up a phone? Or talked to him at a meeting?

    Divided we fall. External division isn’t great but we can’t fix that if internally were clearly working against each other :(.


    • Thanks Gillian. Fair points. I just wanted to call it out for what it is. But you’re right, we’re all part in this.

      Ps I haven’t been on council, now Board, for a few years (2017).


    • Thanks. I think most GPs and pharmacists are weary of the comments slung back and forth by our “leaders”. It’s time to acknowledge and support models of care that encourage collaboration for the benefits of our patients and health system.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And therein lies the real issue – what is collaboration and what does it look like?
        Collaboration is where 2 professions meet to provide services with different contributions from each group for the united purpose of patient benefit.
        Collaboration is not role substitution, nor is it support from GP whilst pharmacists perform ”expanded roles” – particularly when it is those roles usually undertaken by a GP. This however has been the focus of pharmacy for many years -and you only have to look at the Guild Research projects (chronic disease management, diabetes screening etc) to see where this is going. Whilst this happens there will be friction.
        Medication safety is an area that is neglected – but an area where collaboration is helpful. The PBS system is failing to deliver continued medication safety and new models of care are required. By the same token, the tools meant to address this – medication reviews, RMMRs, medscheks, diabetes medschecks – have also failed or only provided improvements in surrogate markers. “Medication problem” identification has also not proven helpful, andeed the ACOVE, Beers and other criteria for potentially inappropriate medications have also been less than helpful.
        We need to address medication safety is a new way. That is the big challenge. Pharmacy intent on finding “new roles” via competition/role substitution, is circumventing collaboration to find new models of care to improve patient safety.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thanks Evan. An excellent question indeed: What does collaboration look like?

          One aspect of collaboration is that mutually beneficial solutions become more important than winning and personal gain. Another is starting conversations and building relationships. We know what the threats are, but what are the opportunities?

          It would be good to hear from a group of leaders who want to start exploring this question instead of mudslinging in the public arena. I wrote a post about this a while back: 5 ingredients for effective collaboration


  • You say “Of course, like other media, ADG is just doing its job.”
    I dispute that and would alter it to say “Unfortunately, instead of doing it’s job and reporting facts, ADG is fuelling the fire to create more news”


  • There was a recent document sent to the RACGP from the PSA about professional collaboration. It was an effort to address “collaborative issues” between GP and Pharmacy. It followed a coroners case where a pharmacist dispensed methotrexate despite knowing the dose to be wrong.(there were other issues here)
    However the PSA intent was good.
    The document could be accurately described as a “one-way” view of issues, but in the spirit of collaboration quality committee improved the document and I think advocacy was going to change it too – before it was to be approved by Council and sent back.
    Not sure what happened to it.


  • Reblogged this on Rural General Practice and commented:

    It’s time the health profession stopped viewing each other with suspicious and responding with derision (to media-driven provocation). Important suggestions @EdwinKryus let us be more mature in our dealings.


  • Love the blog. Certainly some very unhelpful commentary on both sides. I don’t really see how ADG can be blamed for this argument though, unless you think they shouldn’t be reporting this stuff? Both Heffernan and Nespolon’s comments first appeared elsewhere didn’t they?


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