Pharmacists are turning to digital technology in response to an anticipated decrease in profit as a result of the Federal Government’s new 60-day pharmacy dispensing policy.

The CommBank Pharmacy Insights 2023 report showed that as a response to the policy, pharmacists are trying to improve competitiveness and customer experiences by ramping up their digital capabilities, expanding professional services and their scope of practice.

“Digitisation is providing opportunities for pharmacies to create greater efficiencies in managing their day-to-day operations and implementing solutions to improve workflow and cost management,” said CommBank Health Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Albert Naffah.

“Pharmacies are also strengthening their customer proposition with more professional services (50.5%), such as vaccinations and prescribing, as well as product ranges (24.5%) including vitamins, compounding medications, and practitioner-only products, skincare and beauty, and gifts.”

The report also showed that confidence among community pharmacies reached its highest-ever point in late November 2022, but declined sharply by May 2023, following the announcement of the 60-day dispensing policy.

In April 2022, Health Minister Mark Butler announced the move towards 60-day prescriptions to allow patients to pick up two months’ worth of prescriptions at a time for the price of one from September 1 in order to help ease the cost of living pressures – particularly those with chronic conditions.

The move has seen the Federal Government slammed by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia who claim it will negatively impact community chemists who are already struggling.

Some community pharmacists have taken to the streets to protest against the 60-day dispensation move, claiming it will force them to start charging customers for once-free services to help make up the financial shortfall – particularly impacting the price aged care residents pay for their medication.

The retaliation could see patients pay between $10 and $15 for services like blood pressure checks, wound dressing, baby weighing and medication home delivery.

“It’s going to kill our businesses and the Government just doesn’t want to listen,” one pharmacist told 9News.

“I have many staff working, how can I afford to employ staff and give the service?” said another.

Labor Party Federal President Wayne Swan said “Putting the interest of one lobby group ahead of six million people in the middle of a cost of living crisis is crazy, some would say sick.” And Minister Butler slammed the lobby group and the Liberal Party for trying to “scare vulnerable aged care residents that they would have to pay extra”.

“This is a cynical scare campaign from the pharmacy lobby that should be rejected,” he said at a press conference earlier this month.

Furthermore, the Health Department expressed concern in June that the lobby group used patient contact details from its “Find a Pharmacy” website to campaign against the policy after patients reported receiving emails and calls warning about medicine shortages. A spokesperson from the Guild said it “adheres to all relevant privacy laws and regulations”.

The debate continues as the Health Department prepares to negotiate the eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement (8CPA), set to conclude on June 30, 2024.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia will continue to be signatories to any new agreement and consultations for the 8CPA will include patient groups, medicines wholesalers and distributors. The Government plans to harness all the lessons in developing a new agreement in partnership and will note past findings and recommendations of reviews of the sector.