Pharmacists want to plug supplement knowledge gap as consumer demand grows: Malaysia survey

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said their pharmacy stocked a large range of CM products. ©iStock
Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said their pharmacy stocked a large range of CM products. ©iStock

Related tags Pharmacy

Over 80% of Malaysian pharmacists believe their profession should play a greater role in recommending supplements and other ‘complementary medicines’ (CM) to their customers, but most are having to teach themselves about the benefits of such products, a new study has found.

The research, undertaken by Penny Wong, associate dean at Taylor’s University School of Pharmacy, aimed to identify pharmacists’ perception of their ability to meet the CM information needs of customers.

Complementary medicine in this study was defined as ‘herbal medicines, vitamin and mineral supplements, and other nutritional supplements’.

More than 450 pharmacists completed an online survey. The frequency of use of different types of CM by pharmacists, attitudes towards the use of CMs and pharmacists’ knowledge scores were measured.

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said their pharmacy stocked a large range of CM products, with 40% saying they stocked some and just 1% saying they offered none at all.

Wong said pharmacists understood they had a professional obligation to counsel on the use of CMs and provide drug-interaction information, but most said they would not consider hiring a CM practitioner at the moment.

The top five CMs recommended by the respondents in the last month were multivitamins, glucosamine, Omega-3s, vitamin C and probiotics.

Professional responsibility

Wong identified five key points which a vast majority of the pharmacists either agreed, or strongly agreed with. They were:

1.CM products are an important part of the financial business of retail pharmacy.

2.Customers are now expecting more information about CM products from their pharmacist than five years ago.

3. Pharmacists have a professional responsibility to counsel customers about CM products.

4.Pharmacists should play a greater role in providing customers with safety and drug interaction information about CM products.

5.Pharmacists should play a greater role in recommending CM products.

Despite these points, it appears that pharmacists in Malaysia have limited formal training about the products they offer.

Only 7% had any formal study, with 75% relying on self-directed education. Sixty per cent said they had also received information through training provided by manufacturers.

On average, pharmacists only achieved about 54% in a CM knowledge test on CM-drug interactions and 71% on the clinically proven benefits of CMs.

Almost three-quarters said they would be interested in getting additional training about CMs, while 99% said it was either very, or somewhat important for undergraduate pharmacists to learn about evidence-based CMs.

In conclusion Wong noted: “The majority of Malaysian registered pharmacists accept their professional responsibility and roles as educators and information providers,”​ but that there needed to be “reliable sources of information to aid healthcare professionals in the area of CM.”

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