Sonic Healthcare has dissolved a lucrative tie-up to supply pathology testing for a new business expansion by pharmacies, bowing to scathing opposition from GPs.
The in-store pathology screening program, launched last month by Amcal pharmacies, was slammed by the AMA as “wasteful and opportunistic” and a risk to patient care.
In recent days, a number of influential GPs informed Sonic that they would boycott the company’s services in protest.
“Pharmacists would do well to remember that they are an important part of the primary healthcare team, working in concert with general practice. But it is imperative that the team works under a GP’s leadership,” AMA Vice President Tony Bartone told The Medical Republic.
But Amcal’s parent, Sigma Healthcare, has signalled it will look for other pathology partners so it can continue offering the controversial screening program.
“Following feedback from the GP community, Sonic Healthcare, and its subsidiary SmartHealth, will no longer be a pathology provider for the Amcal in-pharmacy screening program,” Sonic announced late on Thursday.
“The program was developed in line with the Health Department’s initiative to promote in-pharmacy health screening services, with the common goal of identifying at-risk patients not in treatment and referring them into the primary health care system,” it said.
“However, many GPs expressed concerns about the initiative, and we have decided to withdraw from the program.”
The service was introduced on June 26 with more than 100 Amcal pharmacies offering a range of tests – charging between $25 for a HbA1c test, to $219.50 for comprehensive screening, including blood count, lipids, and liver and kidney function.
The AMA immediately slammed the move as irresponsible, asserting pharmacists were not trained to judge whether a customer required a pathology test and the service contradicted NPS Medicine Wise guidelines.
It pointed to guidelines recommending against testing asymptomatic patients, unless they fell into particular high-risk categories.
“Health checks, screening activities and diagnostic tests should only be conducted if they are clinically indicated, evidence backed and cost effective,” Dr Bartone said.
“This kind of opportunistic health testing only caters to the worried well, without reaching those most at risk or in need of preventive health care.”
Responding to Sonic’s decision, Sigma Healthcare said it understood Sonic had come under commercial pressures.
The outcome was disappointing, particularly given how hard both parties worked on the collaboration, Sigma said.
“This pathology program is about empowering and motivating patients to manage their own health, including better engagement with their GP,” it said.
“Accessing these pathology testing services through a trained healthcare professional provides patients with a face-to-face contact able to help them understand their results – something that is not available through similar online services.”