Health Check

How can Australian pharmacies help you?

What can you buy at a pharmacy? Do you need a prescription? Can pharmacists identify health conditions? Everything international students need to know about pharmacies in Australia.

Written by Editor Medibank
Rear view of young Asian mother with a shopping cart grocery shopping for baby products in a supermarket. She is standing in front of the baby product aisle and have no idea which product to choose from

Brinley Hosking is the Chief Pharmacist at Amcal, a company that operates more than 200 pharmacies throughout Australia. In this interview, she explains what products and services local pharmacies provide and how our pharmacists are trained.

What is sold at Australian pharmacies?

Most of the products sold at Australian pharmacies are medicines, including vitamins and supplements, non-prescription medicines for minor ailments (such as cuts, cough, colds and minor pains), and prescription medicines for chronic disease and serious conditions. Pharmacies also sell toiletries, cosmetics, and hygiene products.

Do I need a prescription to buy medicine?

You can buy some medicines without a prescription, but you need a prescription for others. The rules aren’t exactly the same as the rules in other countries. For example, you can buy asthma medication from an Australian pharmacist without a prescription, but you can’t in the United States. The easiest way to find out if you need a prescription is to go to a pharmacy and ask.

What else is different about Australian pharmacies?

In a lot of countries, pharmacies are just shops where you purchase products. But in Australia, pharmacies provide a range of health-related services and it’s very easy to ask a pharmacist for advice.

What are some of the services that Australian pharmacies provide?

Many pharmacies offer vaccinations for the flu or COVID-19, type 2 diabetes screenings, support to quit smoking, blood pressure checks, allergy support and more. You can also obtain medical certificates that can be used to verify absences from work or study. At Amcal pharmacies, we also provide screening, advice and treatment for people who may be suffering from sleep apnoea.

What advice can an Australian pharmacist provide?

Pharmacists are medication experts, so they can answer most questions about the medications you are currently taking. For example, you can ask a pharmacist whether a particular medication is safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding, or if it is safe to drink alcohol whilst taking it. Pharmacists can also tell you how medications might interact with each other or if it is safe to take multiple medications at the same time. If you’re not unwell but want to be as healthy as possible, pharmacists can also give you general lifestyle advice.

Can Australian pharmacists diagnose health problems and recommend medications?

Pharmacists can give advice about what we call “self-limiting conditions”. These are conditions that usually go away without treatment but that might go away more quickly if you take medication or change your lifestyle. Headaches are a common example. Some headaches go away without treatment, but there are medications you can take to speed up the process or make you more comfortable in the meantime. You should speak to a doctor if you have signs and symptoms that are of concern.

If you’re a Medibank OSHC or ahm OSHC member, you can also phone the 24/7 Student Health and Support Line for health advice from a registered nurse (details below).

What training do Australian pharmacists undertake?

Compared with some other countries, becoming a pharmacist in Australia requires a lot of training. It is a requirement to complete a four-year university degree followed by a year of internship. Once qualified, additional training must be completed every year to maintain registration as a pharmacist and keep up to date with the latest health information.

Medibank OSHC and ahm OSHC pharmaceutical benefits

Your OSHC policy can pay benefits towards the cost of eligible prescription medicines, in excess of the member contribution (co-payment) amount (up to per item benefits and annual limits). Refer to your Medibank OSHC or ahm OSHC Cover Summary for more info on the benefit amounts and annual limits which apply.

Australian pharmacies cannot provide assistance if you are seriously unwell or have an injury that requires immediate treatment. Speak to a general doctor (GP) or visit a hospital if you experience serious signs or symptoms. In an emergency, phone 000.

24/7 Student Health and Support Line

If you’re a Medibank or ahm OSHC member, you can also phone the 24/7 Student Health and Support Line for health advice from a registered nurse, counselling services, emergency legal advice, travel document assistance, interpreter service and more. The service is available 24/7 on 1800 887 283 if you hold Medibank OSHC or 1800 006 745 if you hold ahm OSHC. Policy holders can also speak to a general practitioner (i.e., a doctor) via the Online Doctor+ feature of the Medibank OSHC and ahm OSHC apps, available 24/7.

+A minimum out-of-pocket expense of $10 applies. Waiting times may vary depending on doctor availability. Online Doctor is offered on a trial basis and may be discontinued at any time. For privacy reasons, Partners and Dependents on a policy may not access Online Doctor through the OSHC app.

24/7 Student Health and Support Line

Need support? Medibank Overseas Student Health Cover members can call 1800 887 283 anytime for health advice from a registered nurse, counselling services, emergency legal advice, travel document assistance, interpreter service and more.

ahm Overseas Student Health Cover members can call 1800 006 745.

Written by Editor Medibank

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