Objectives: This study explored advice-giving behaviour in community pharmacies in order to understand the nature and process of pharmaceutical consultations and consumers' views of the advice-giving role.
Method: An ethnographic research strategy was used, combining patient interviews with non-participant observation of interactions between consumers and pharmacy staff. One week was spent in each of 10 pharmacies.
Results: The study demonstrated that the advice given in a community pharmacy is almost wholly focused on product recommendation and use. Advice-giving varies according to whether consultations concern prescription or non-prescription medicines. When the latter are involved, advice-giving is mostly consumer-led. Consumers' major 'need' for pharmacy services appears to be for information about the effectiveness of products they buy, whilst pharmacists and pharmacy assistants concentrate on providing advice on the safety of medicines.
Conclusion: The notion of pharmacists as general health advisors does not appear to be shared by the public and may be at odds with how the public view and use pharmacies. Protocols to guide staff may be improved by including the consumer perspective. Most consumers have previous experience of their ailments and use pharmacies as one of several resources available to them to treat their minor illness, having made their own diagnosis and assessment before entering the pharmacy. The scope for giving new advice is therefore limited. The broader role of community pharmacies merits further attention.