Objective The objectives of this study were to ascertain the opinions of randomly selected South African medical aid members regarding the provision by community pharmacists of patient counselling and information; member satisfaction with pharmacist services; their rating of pharmacist accessibility; and if pharmacists should be reimbursed for providing cognitive pharmaceutical services.

Setting A South African private healthcare insurance company.

Method A 39-item web-based survey instrument was used to telephonically interrogate randomly selected insured participants to determine their use of prescription medicines, if they received medication counselling and disease-related information, their satisfaction with the advice provided, how they rated their relationships with pharmacists, if they believed that pharmacists should be reimbursed for providing professional services and their rating of pharmacist accessibility. A total of 628 randomly selected insured patients were telephonically surveyed and their responses included.

Key findings Of the 507 participants, 60% received prescription medicine for their own use from pharmacists at least once during the six-month period under review, 26% from dispensing doctors and 14% from both pharmacists and doctors. Seventy-nine per cent reported receiving medication counselling and 77% received health-related information from pharmacists. This contrasted with those participants who received medicines from doctors where 98% reported being counselled on medicine use and 99% received health-related information. Almost 90% of those who consulted pharmacists believed that they were provided with good advice. Just over two-thirds of participants (68%) rated their relationships with pharmacists as good, 62% considered doctors more accessible than pharmacists and 46% said that they were willing to pay pharmacists for providing professional cognitive services.

Conclusion Although pharmacists were significantly more likely to provide participants with their prescription medicines, they compared unfavourably with doctors in terms of healthcare provider accessibility and in providing patients with health-related information and medication counselling. While the majority of participants surveyed classified their relationships with their pharmacists as good, just under half were willing to pay pharmacists for providing professional pharmacy services.