Hard pill to swallow

THERE is more to being a pharmacist than just handing out boxes of medicine.

That is the view of Tweed pharmacists in response to plans to introduce ATM-style medicine - vending machines, popular in the US, into Australia for stable patients on regular repeat medication.

South Tweed Seven Day Chemist pharmacist Ron Sands said people in his industry handed out life-saving advice.

"We also counsel people on medications, which is not always appropriate in the written form, and offer the service of medications in a blister pack for daily use. How would a machine do any of those things," he said.

"Security would be another big issue - one of the things we face in society is people stealing identities to get hold of narcotics and the possibility of fraud as with other ATMs.

"The pharmacist's role is not as simple as people might think. Pharmacists are obliged by law to keep up to date with changes and legal requirements - a machine is not going to do that."

Mr Sands said the system of vending machines would not be infallible.

"Computers can still make mistakes, and mistakes with medications can be fatal."

Being in the industry for 20 years, pharmacist Greg Mapp from Mapp and Hession Pharmacy in Murwillumbah said he was totally against medicines being available from vending machines.

Mr Mapp said he couldn't imagine it being successful.

"The interaction of medicines and reactions to existing conditions of customers could be disastrous," he said.

"We check these things on a daily basis when filling prescriptions in the pharmacy, and we save the government a huge amount of money by picking up these things.

"It is of the utmost importance for customers to obtain ultimate treatment by going to the same pharmacy each time."

Banora Point Pharmacy Choice pharmacist Stephen Burke, who has been a pharmacist for four years, said the intervention rate for people taking medications incorrectly would be greatly reduced with the introduction of vending machine medications.

"Pharmacists are a stop check for doctors. We call doctors on a daily basis to confirm doses, so it would take away that safety net," he said.

"There are also real security issues with people who get hold of prescriptions incorrectly. It would make it easier for people to get hold of drugs for incorrect use."

Mr Burke said pharmacists played an important interactive role in the community.

"Pharmacists embrace technology for streamlining the dispensing of medications, but it has to get the best outcome for patients. I think this would be a step backward."

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