Which tests make a difference? Messages for pharmacists

23 May 2013

NPS MedicineWise is launching a new educational program on preventive activities in general practice.

The program, which primarily focuses on healthy people aged 40 – 49, builds on the work NPS MedicineWise has undertaken in the area of medical tests since 2009.

NPS MedicineWise clinical adviser Dr Andrew Boyden says that while the program has a focus on encouraging appropriate use of tests during preventive activities in general practice, pharmacists also play an important role.

“There is a great opportunity to help identify people who are at increased risk of developing chronic conditions and give them the chance to make lifestyle changes that will benefit them as they age,” says Dr Boyden.

For example, pharmacists can offer guidance around evidence-based self assessment tools such as the Australian Type 2 Diabetes Risk Assessment (AUSDRISK) and encourage people who score highly to go to their GP for a fuller assessment.

They can also support people in making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce the impact of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. Addressing smoking, nutrition, alcohol, physical activity and weight (SNAPW risk factors) is particularly relevant in chronic disease prevention.

“Pharmacists are often the first port of call for many people who are not sure they need to see a GP. This can provide an opportunity for phamacists to discuss the importance of chronic disease prevention and refer to a GP for risk assessment and further testing if appropriate,” says Dr Boyden.

The new NPS MedicineWise program encourages GPs to prioritise the use of evidence-based risk assessments and tests and avoid inappropriate testing that may cause more harm than good.

Dr Boyden says that tests are just one part of the story and are not infallible.

“For example a test may identify a condition that if left alone would not impact on a person’s health, but once identified could lead to further investigations and treatments with harmful side effects. This overdiagnosis of a condition highlights the need to weigh the risks and benefits before testing,” he says.

The latest edition of Medicinewise News, “Testing times: Which tests are best for assessing risk in preventive health care?” will be distributed to over 78,000 health professionals around Australia from Friday 24 May. It explores why some tests are recommended for cancer screening by comparing the evidence for two common tests: the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer and the faecal occult blood test for colorectal cancer.

This program aims to align with national guidelines, particularly the RACGP Red Book (which is available free online at www.racgp.org.au/your-practice/guidelines/redbook/), and was developed with input from a wide range of experts including GPs and pathologists.  

The program also recognises the importance of ensuring that vulnerable people including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are identified and covered through preventive activities in general practice and community care.

For more information, and to read more about the evidence behind a range of tests, including PSA, vitamin D, thyroid, diabetes risk assessment and the absolute CVD risk assessment, visit the new online information hub, available from 24 May, at www.nps.org.au/preventive-health.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Media enquiries: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or schilds@nps.org.au or Erin Jardine on (02) 8217 8733 or ejardine@nps.org.au