PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s largest consumer group says patients of private clinics must be allowed to decide where they obtain their medicines from, amid a debate over separating the roles of doctors and pharmacists.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) CEO Paul Selvaraj told FMT that in developed countries, patients, as consumers are empowered to make their own decisions in relation to where they get their medication.
Recently, the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) said it disagreed with the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) on the issue of the proposed pharmacy bill.
MPS had complained that in its current form, the pharmacy bill would promote a separation of roles. MPS had also pointed out five flaws in the bill, including that it did not make it mandatory for doctors to issue prescriptions or indicate their diagnosis on a prescription.
“Doctors should be transparent in dispensation. They must let the patients know the names of the medications prescribed so that consumers could then decide where to buy them.”
Paul said even though existing practices in Malaysia, where doctors had dispensation rights, was convenient, consumers also had the right to make informed buying decisions.
“No one should be forced to buy their medicines from doctors.”
Meanwhile, Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy, a think tank, said that reforms to the current legislation guiding pharmacies and pharmaceuticals are long overdue as current laws date back to the colonial era.
“Reforms will address overlaps in regulations and controls, as well as improve efficiency and ensure better governance regarding the use and control of medicines,” Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib told FMT.
“It would allow patients to be better informed regarding their prescription needs and provide itemised billing.”
However, Azrul cautioned that Malaysia was not ready for an overnight policy change which would see patients getting their medications solely from pharmacies.
“We currently don’t have sufficient infrastructure to enable effective separation between consulting doctors and dispensing pharmacies.
“Doctors can easily write prescriptions but patients might find it tough or costly to actually get the medicines. Then there is the availability of nearby pharmacies as many small towns don’t have pharmacies.”
Azrul said if patients found it difficult to get their medicines from pharmacies, especially in smaller towns and rural areas, they would be less likely to get treated.
He said this was why the existing practice was convenient.
Ideally, Azrul said, Malaysia should opt for separation, as was the case in developed countries, but for the time being, the government should carry out a pilot programme in specific locations.
“So, in selected areas, you can try separating the roles of doctors and pharmacies. This will help everyone, including doctors, pharmacies and patients, to get used to the separation of roles and build confidence.
“They can also learn how to do it properly with minimum disruption before the national rollout,” Azrul said, adding that perhaps a three- to five-year transition period should be given so that everyone has time to prepare.
“An overnight policy change will not be good and might in fact be harmful for patients.”
The proposed pharmacy bill has been been talked about for years, but has yet to be finalised.
In 2015, Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam was reported to have said the government had yet to finalise a proposal on the separation of the roles of private clinics and pharmacies and was in the midst of discussions with stakeholders.