Why docs should keep dispensing medicine

Why docs should keep dispensing medicine

Comment by V.K. CHIN

PHARMACISTS are making another attempt to get the Health Ministry to stop doctors from dispensing, in other words selling medication to patients. They want to do the job as its members are better trained to do this.

The Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society has been trying to have such separation of functions between its members and doctors for some years now but with little success so far.

Their present campaign is not likely to be successful due to several factors that remained unresolved over the years. The main concern is that there are insufficient pharmacists and pharmacies to enable patients to buy their medication.

This is mainly due to the shortage of qualified pharmacists as it was not a popular course until recently. Most of the early graduates were trained overseas and few were interested in this profession then.

Those with A-level science, for example, would prefer medicine or dentistry since there is greater scope – and, of course, status – in these two professions.

It was only in the last decade or so that medical schools were established locally to cater for the rising demand and such overseas training was also too expensive for many families.

Pharmacology has always been closely related to the study of medicine since those with health problems have to rely on medication to cure their conditions.

This is where pharmacists play a key role.

In the early days, most pharmacists were in government service since there was little opportunity for them to come out and start their own pharmacies. When patients wanted to buy medicine, they would just get it from their doctors.

This system has been in place for so long that patients would want to just go to a doctor for diagnosis and buy the medicine from the clinic. It was so convenient for them.

If doctors were forbidden to dispense medicine, it would not go down well with their patients.

This mindset would be hard to change unless legislation is introduced to force the issue.

But the ministry cannot ignore this public sentiment and perhaps for this reason, it is reluctant to introduce a new system anytime soon.

The ministry also has to take into consideration public convenience and the logistics involved in introducing such a scheme.

Even if an experiment should be conducted on the feasibility of such a change, it would still be difficult to cater to the needs of consumers. While there may be pharmacies in more developed parts of a city, they are not open 24 hours a day, unlike clinics.

For example, where are patients going to buy medicine in the early hours of the day after consulting a doctor? The only place they can get it is from the dispensary in the clinic.

The plan to separate functions between doctors and pharmacists may be good for the latter, but will it be in the best interest of the sick and the general public?

In the short-term, the number of pharmacists coming out to practise will be further curtailed since they now have to serve the three-year compulsory service in the government just like doctors and dentists.

This inclusion is strictly due to the dire shortage of pharmacists in government service and this is the only way the ministry can ensure healthcare to the people will not be disrupted.

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