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Pharmacy advice shadow shop

CHOICE's research finds almost 1 in 3 pharmacists recommend products that have no evidence to demonstrate they work.

13 February 2017

A CHOICE shadow shop of 240 pharmacies including Priceline, Chemist Warehouse and Terry White Chemmart has found many pharmacists are recommending alternative medicines that have little to no scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness. 

"Our mystery shoppers were asked to approach the prescription dispensing counter and ask for advice from the pharmacist about feeling stressed," says CHOICE head of media, Tom Godfrey.

"When a pharmacist was asked if there was something they could recommend for stress, worryingly 26% of pharmacists recommended products based on Bach flower remedies and 3% recommended homeopathic products, for which there is no evidence of effectiveness. 

"Products containing a B group vitamin complex, for which there is some evidence it may help, were the most commonly recommended products (46%).

"Other frequently recommended products were St John’s Wort (11%) and Valerian (15%). However, there is no good evidence they help with stress, though valerian may help with stress-related insomnia."

Having received a recommendation, the CHOICE shoppers asked what was in the product and how it worked, with half of all questions about the composition met with an answer that the product consisted of "natural" ingredients including plants, flowers and herbs. 

"For 59% of shoppers, assurance that the product works was given without any suggestion of supporting evidence and 24% were told the recommended product scientifically works,"says Mr Godfrey.
 
"Pharmacists enjoy a huge level of trust from the community and the industry is a strong advocate for its role in Australia’s health care system.

"It's deeply concerning that the explanation for the recommendations were often vague and lacked scientific evidence to support their effectiveness."

The full results of the shadow shop can be viewed at: choice.com.au/pharmacyshadowshop

Pharmacists should: 
• Seek more information about the nature of your symptoms
• Recommend evidence-based solutions
• Advise you to see a doctor if appropriate

Media contact
: Tom Godfrey, CHOICE, Head of Media and Spokesperson: 0430 172 669