Open Access Open Badges Research article

Exploring consumer and pharmacist views on the professional role of the pharmacist with respect to natural health products: a study of focus groups

Della Kwan1, Heather S Boon2*, Kristine Hirschkorn2, Sandy Welsh3, Tannis Jurgens4, Lynda Eccott5, Shirley Heschuk6, Glenn G Griener7 and Jillian C Cohen-Kohler2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

4 College of Pharmacy, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

5 Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

6 Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

7 School of Public Health & Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-40

Published: 14 July 2008



Natural health products (NHPs) such as herbs, vitamins and homeopathic medicines, are currently available for sale in most Canadian pharmacies. However, most pharmacists report that they have limited knowledge about these products which have been regulated in Canada as a specific sub-category of drugs. In this paper, consumers' and practicing pharmacists' perceptions of pharmacists' professional responsibilities with respect to NHPs are examined.


A total of 16 focus groups were conducted with consumers (n = 50) and pharmacists (n = 47) from four different cities across Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Halifax).


In this paper, we illustrate the ways in which pharmacists' professional responsibilities are impacted by changing consumer needs. Many consumers in the study utilized a wide range of information resources that may or may not have included pharmacists. Nevertheless, the majority of consumers and pharmacists agreed that pharmacists should be knowledgeable about NHPs and felt that pharmacists should be able to manage drug-NHPs interactions as well as identify and evaluate the variety of information available to help consumers make informed decisions.


This paper demonstrates that consumers' expectations and behaviour significantly impact pharmacists' perceptions of their professional responsibilities with respect to NHPs.