Medication dispensing, additional therapeutic recommendations, and pricing practices for acute diarrhoea by community pharmacies in Germany: a simulated patient study

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Diarrhea, Loperamide, Self Medication, Professional Practice, Pharmacies, Pharmaceutical Services, Pharmacists, Quality of Health Care, Costs and Cost Analysis, Patient Simulation, Germany


Background: In Germany over-the-counter medications (OTC) – which since 2004 are no longer subject to binding prices – can only be purchased in pharmacies. Pharmacy owners and their staff therefore have a special responsibility when dispensing, advising on and setting the prices of medications.

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess medication dispensing, additional therapeutic recommendations and pricing practices for acute diarrhoea in adults and to evaluate the role of the patient’s approach (symptom-based versus medication-based request) in determining the outcome of these aspects.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted from 1 May to 31 July 2017 in all 21 community pharmacies in a medium-sized German city. Symptom-based and medication-based scenarios related to self-medication of acute diarrhoea were developed and used by five simulated patients (SPs) in all of the pharmacies (a total of 84 visits). Differentiating between the different test scenarios in terms of the commercial and active ingredient names and also the prices of the medications dispensed, the SPs recorded on collection forms whether the scenario involved generic products or original preparations as well as whether recommendations were made during the test purchases regarding an additional intake of fluids.

Results: In each of the 84 test purchases one preparation was dispensed. However, a preparation for oral rehydration was not sold in a single test purchase. On the other hand, in 74/84 (88%) of test purchases, medications with the active ingredient loperamide were dispensed. In only 35/84 (42%) of test purchases, the patient was also recommended to ensure an ‘adequate intake of fluids’ in addition to being dispensed a medication. In symptom-based scenarios significantly more expensive medications were dispensed compared to the medication-based scenarios (Wilcoxon signed rank test: z = -4.784, p < 0.001, r = 0.738). Also within the different scenarios there were enormous price differences identified – for example, in the medication-based scenarios, even for comparable loperamide generics the cheapest preparation cost EUR 1.99 and the most expensive preparation cost EUR 4.53.

Conclusions: Oral rehydration was not dispensed and only occasionally was an adequate intake of fluids recommended. There were also enormous price differences both between and within the scenarios investigated.


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