By ALYX GORMAN
Imagine if getting your hands on three months worth of a contraceptive pill was as simple as walking into a pharmacy and filling out a brief questionnaire.
That could be a reality in Australia next year if a submission that is currently before the Therapeutic Goods Administration gets accepted.
The amendment proposed would require patients seeking oral contraceptive pills to fill out a short survey, covering “family history of heart problems, hypertension and stroke” and take an in-pharmacy blood pressure test, before being issued with a three to six month supply of the pill.
This might sound like a blessing when it comes to convenience of use but the Australian Medical Association have serious reservations about making the pill available over the counter.
GP and AMA representative Dr Brian Morton explains:
“The oral contraceptive pill is a very safe medication, but it should be prescribed by a GP, with all the quality care that’s needed for women. A simple questionnaire and buying it over the counter doesn’t give women the safety that they need.”
In rare cases, the oral contraceptive pill can lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of clotting and even stroke, and Dr Morton believes that “a subtle assessment of a patient’s risk can’t be done with a questionnaire.”
He adds that, when a patient comes in to get her pill script renewed, she receives additional medical care. “You check their blood pressure, you find out whether they’ve had a pap smear and maybe do the pap smear at that time. You find out whether they’re self examining their breasts regularly. There’s a lot that happens around the time of prescribing the pill.”
Dr Brian Morton discusses the role of family doctors.
He fears that, by making the pill available over the counter, women will forget things like potentially life-saving pap smear screenings.
Dr Morton notes that taking the pill can be tricky to get right. “There’s a big risk when women don’t fully understand what happens if they miss a pill or have a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea, where it’s not absorbed, or when they take it with medications that are counter-indicated.”