Dual role was born out of necessity
Lack of pharmacists in the past saw medics take on task of dispensing drugs
Hong Kong doctors historically have had the right to dispense medicine because there were not enough pharmacies in the past.
But as the number of pharmacies increased doctors 'never lost the habit', said Derek Gould, partner in Kwok and Gould Consulting.
Mr Gould, co-author of a book on Hong Kong's health-care system and a former principal assistant secretary for health and welfare, said Hong Kong doctors retained the prerogative to dispense medicines instead of going the way of their counterparts in the UK and many other countries where doctors turned over the job to pharmacists.
He said the 'last real examination' of the issue was in 1980, when a working party on the practice of pharmacy and ancillary matters was appointed. It submitted its report in 1982.
The report concluded that patients should be given the right to ask for a prescription from their doctors that they could fill at a pharmacy.
However, many Hong Kong patients prefer one-stop shopping, so the practice of doctors dispensing medicines has continued.
Some people argue that drugs could be cheaper if dispensed outside of doctors' surgeries but 'doctors argue that a few dollars won't make any difference', Mr Gould said.
He said the question of whether doctors should give up their role as medicine dispensers should be left to the patients.
'It is really what the patients want and whether they are aware they have the right to choose,' he said.
Mr Gould questioned whether the Medical Association had done enough to disseminate information about patients' right to choose. In the early 1990s, the association and the Consumer Council joined forces and stated in a patients' charter that patients have the right to ask for a prescription.
'The most important issue is taking the wrong medicine can be very dangerous,' Mr Gould said.
Scarlett Pong Oi-lan, a pharmacist and the founder of the League of Healthcare Professionals, said the issue had been debated for 30 years.
'The system at the moment does not allow for double-checking the medicines,' she said.
She disputed the argument that ending the practice of doctors dispensing medicines would increase the cost of drugs.
'In pharmacies, you do not have to pay the consultancy fee, so the prices will go down,' Ms Pong said.
Pros and cons of doctors prescribing and dispensing medicine:
Convenient for patients
Quick and saves time
Clinics sometimes charge more for drugs
Encourages patients to value doctors for
the pills they give, rather than their advice
Could increase risk of mistakes, depending
on training received by dispensing staff
Bad for pharmacies? business