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Community pharmacy dispensing for HIV medicines

From 1 July 2015, people living with HIV are able to access their HIV medications from community pharmacies (chemists) providing greater flexibility and convenience. In Victoria prior to this, HIV medications were only available in hospital pharmacies. This is in addition to being able to obtain your medications from your existing hospital pharmacy (Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and The Alfred Hospital). 

What do I need to do?

If you wish to access a community pharmacy, you can approach one with a request to fill your prescription for HIV medications, provided you have a prescription written on or after 1 July 2015. Prescriptions for ART which you currently hold, or which are dated before 1 July 2015, cannot be dispensed by the chemist but will need to be dispensed where you previously collected your medication. 

How much notice do I need to provide to my community pharmacy before picking up my medications?

HIV medications are specialised and costly to hold in stock, so most pharmacies do not have existing stocks of HIV medications. If the medications are not available at the time, they can usually be brought in within 24 hours, although this can vary depending on location and may take longer in remote areas. 

It is best to contact your community pharmacy and ask how much notice they will need to order your supply of medications. They are familiar with doing this and supply many medications on an 'on demand' basis. 

Will the pharmacist be able to provide me with information about my medications, drug interactions and side-effects??

Yes. Historically HIV medications have only been available in hospital pharmacies. As a result, the vast majority of community pharmacists have no experience with HIV medications as these drugs have never been dispensed in the community. Accordingly, the pharmacist may need to look up details about drug interactions that may also ask you questions about other medications you are taking. These questions will assist the pharmacist in satisfying their duty of care to you as a health consumer. 

A range of HIV specific education and training resources have also been developed to enhance pharmacists' knowledge of HIV. You can expect a community pharmacist to advise and support you in a skilled, professional and confidential manner in relation to all your medications. 

If you are collecting any NEW or CHANGED medications, it is recommended that you seek advice on these medications from your existing 'specialist' pharmacist. That way you can obtain detailed information and answers to any questions you may have. 

Any repeat prescriptions can then be collected from you community pharmacy. 

Can I have my medications posted or delivered to me if I do not want to pick them up?

Some pharmacies may offer online ordering through the internet, and provide a postal and delivery service. It is advisable to enquire if there are any associated costs. 

Postage of medicines is safe and secure. Discrete packaging removes information including the names, type or brands of medications. If you take up this option you will need to ensure you have a safe, secure and weather protected letter box or place where the packages can be left. 

If you have your HIV medications delivered via an online chemist, you will need to tell your prescriber so that they can discuss interactions, side-effects, dosing times and management with you. 

In addition, because there can be unforseen delays in postage delivery, you will need to make sure you have enough medication before your new drugs are due for delivery to ensure you are able to maintain adherence to your drug combination. 

Will there be any cost if I go to my community pharmacy?

Yes. There will be a co-payment if you access your community pharmacist for your HIV medications. This is the same co-payment charge for collecting medications from the Alfred. Accessing HIV medications from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre will still be free of any cost. 

Will my community pharmacist maintain my confidentiality and privacy?

Yes. Community pharmacists are professional registered health-practitioners. They have a duty of care to ensure your personal and medical details remain confidential and private. Other pharmacy staff are bound by the same obligations of confidentiality and privacy. 

If you are concerned about your confidentiality and privacy, request to speak to the pharmacist in a private consultation area. You may want to let the pharmacists know that you are concerned about your privacy, and that you do not want other people seeing your medication. In the unlikely event that your privacy or confidentiality is breached or compromised, raise the matter with the pharmacist or pharmacy manager, in the first instance, and see to resolve the matter directly with them. You should also inform your doctor about any breach of confidentiality and privacy you have experienced from the pharmacy. 

If the issue is not resolved, you can lodge a complaint with one of the following agencies:

Office of the Health Services Commissioner

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency

How Positive Women Victoria can help

If you are unsure about whether or not to proceed with a complaint, or if you are experiencing difficulties financing your HIV medications, contact Positive Women Victoria to discuss your options.