Pharmacy change proposals fail to reflect reality

An open letter to the Alberta College of Pharmacists, in reference to your proposal to ban pharmacists from offering customer ‘inducements’ which the College of Pharmacists defines, narrowly, as “any reward, loyalty program point, discount or coupon given.”

An open letter to the Alberta College of Pharmacists, in reference to your proposal to ban pharmacists from offering customer ‘inducements’ which the College of Pharmacists defines, narrowly, as “any reward, loyalty program point, discount or coupon given.”

As a pharmacist’s daughter and a senior who now takes quite a few prescribed medications, I want to voice my concerns about the college’s proposal to try to regulate these shopper ‘inducements.’ I think this proposal is ill-conceived and unfair.

You are trying to ban Safeway from giving Air Miles with pharmaceutical purchases, for example, yet your tight definition of inducements allows for the following situations, which are every bit as much customer incentives as that which Safeway offers, to wit:

• Individual pharmacies will still be allowed to offer free delivery of their goods, a competitive inducement if ever there was one;

• Co-op pharmacies are not affected in their practice of including drug purchases in calculating the amount spent by an member to determine the amount of that member’s yearly dividend;

• Individual pharmacies will still be able to elect whether to open on holidays and for how long;

• Some pharmacies offer free parking, which is not an option for all pharmacies;

• Individual pharmacies can still choose their own hours of operation;

• Individual pharmacies within pharmacy chain stores have the advantage of luring customers with weekly flyers, an option not feasible for all independent operators.

All of these are competitive inducements used to try to improve a pharmacy’s appeal to customers; yet the college proposes to step in and prevent only those inducements that offer a “reward, loyalty program point, discount or coupon.” I believe this is unwarranted interference in the marketplace. If you are going to control some of these inducements, then you must act fairly and control them all (which, of course, is impossible). Otherwise you are giving those unaffected by your tight definition an unfair advantage — just the opposite of leveling the playing field, in my opinion.

The suggestion on your website that the offending pharmacist spends more time explaining the points system than he/she does in educating the client about the drug prescribed is completely unfounded in my experience, and on the few occasions when I ordered a refill too soon, I was immediately advised by the pharmacy that the request was premature and could not yet be processed — so much for the allegation that the Air Miles inducement causes people to buy/seek or consume more drugs than they otherwise would.

Negating another false argument, I want to add that I have consulted my Safeway pharmacist about medical issues such as the shingles vaccination and the interaction of certain drugs one with the other, and my request for information was always dealt with promptly and professionally to my full satisfaction.

For these reasons, I sincerely request that the college reject this proposal in its deliberations.

Donna Stinson

Red Deer

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