Background: Combinations of professional and commercial communication are typically very controversial, particularly in health care communication on the Internet. Websites of licensed community pharmacies on the other hand tend to raise remarkably little controversy, although they typically contain controversial combinations of clinical and commercial services previously unprecedented in professional health care communication.
Objective: The aim of this study was to fill the void of knowledge about the combination of clinical and commercial services presented on the websites of licensed community pharmacies.
Methods: A content analysis of clinical and commercial services presented in a random sample of 200 licensed community pharmacy websites from Great Britain, the Netherlands, the Canadian provinces British Columbia and Manitoba, and the Australian states New South Wales and Western Australia was conducted.
Results: The top five specific services mentioned on the community pharmacy websites were cosmetic products (126/200, 63.0%), medication refill request options (124/200, 62.0%), over-the-counter medicine (115/200, 57.5%), complementary and alternative medicine (107/200, 53.5%), and home medical aids (98/200, 49.0%). On average, 72.5% (145/200) of the community pharmacy websites across the 4 countries included a combination of clinical and commercial services. A combination of clinical and commercial services was more often present on chain pharmacy websites (120/147, 82.8%) than single pharmacy websites (25/53, 47%; P<.001), and most often on the Canadian community pharmacy websites, followed by the Australian, British, and Dutch pharmacy websites, respectively (P<.02). Furthermore, more than half of the pharmacies’ homepages contained a combination of clinical and commercial images (107/200, 53.5%), and almost half of the homepage menus contained a combination of clinical and commercial items (99/200, 49.5%). The latter were, again, more common on chain pharmacy than single pharmacy websites (P<.001), with significant differences between countries (P<.001).
Conclusions: A considerable share of websites of licensed community pharmacies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia combine clinical services with commercial services. Previous research into the presence of a combination of commercial and professional services suggests that such a combination may lead to increased interest in commercial services that may be unnecessary or inappropriate to patients’ health.
Keywords: community pharmacy services; pharmaceutical services; online pharmacies; marketing of health services; commerce; pharmacy ethics
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