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Why should you be selling self-screening kits in your pharmacy?

There was a time when only a doctor would be expected to deliver a diagnosis on a rash or worry about weight or general health. 

However, an overburdened NHS, longer waiting times and some advances in technology - plus a growing sense of self-empowerment - has meant that many more people, including your customers, are avoiding the doctor’s surgery and using self-test diagnostic kits.

But what does this mean for your pharmacy? Should you be happy to help - or will self-diagnosed customers be putting themselves at risk, and you in an awkward position? 

What does it mean for you?

More than half of adults in the UK may now self-diagnose when feeling unwell, according to a national survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. It is becoming very easy to do so - there are self-testing kits for a growing range of medical conditions. Tests to allow diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels have been around for years and getting easier to use and more accurate year by year. But now, patients can use diagnostic kits to identify and monitor a myriad of conditions, from cholesterol and blood pressure to pregnancy and STIs.

On the plus side, these can provide early screening which can improve outcomes. But on the negative, removing involvement from healthcare specialists can mean extra responsibilities for you as a pharmacist.

You could find yourself doing the doctor’s job

As a pharmacist, your training is in drugs and dispensing. You are a medical professional, but you are probably not trained in providing the kind of care that a GP or even a consultant might offer, or be able to call on the same support network.

If the test is good news, this might not matter. The healthy young woman keen to be a mum may have reason to celebrate, for example, and may also be perfectly capable of arranging the medical support she needs for her pregnancy. 

But even then, if her doctor is involved from the outset, he or she might be able to identify risk factors from her medical history which might be crucial - which could otherwise be missed until too late.

If the news is less positive, however, the individual may be unsure of where to turn. If you have sold them the kit that points out that they have Chlamydia, for example, they may come back to you for help - help which you are not qualified to give. If people have multiple partners, then they could all spread the disease, and they will all need to be contacted and potentially be called in to have treatment. The doctor will be able to call on the facilities of the local STI clinic. With a self-test, people may be too scared to seek the help they need and may return to you as the provider of the kit.

If so, it could present you with ethical, moral - and potentially even legal - dilemmas about confidentiality, privacy and information sharing. The situation would be even worse if the problem found was HIV. 

There could be other issues with self-testing too. Patients might start repeated self-testing for the same condition until they get the result they want, while the ‘worried well’ may make health checks that are completely unnecessary.

But you may be able to help

Although some self-tests will mean costs for patients that bring no benefit, and others mean discovering problems that you cannot help with, there will be plenty of less daunting findings. Not every self-test will result in moral dilemmas for you. For example, those who use a kit to test their blood pressure can speak to a member of your pharmacy team about making changes they need to their lifestyle and diet.

In cases like these, not only will you help to relieve the strain on the NHS, you can relieve the stress on the patient themselves. Many suffer from “white coat syndrome” which means anxiety and blood pressure increases in a formal medical environment. You should be able to provide basic advice on how to interpret the results if they are borderline and offer suggestions on how the figures can be improved.

The fact is, patients will call into your pharmacy to buy self-check kits and equipment. They will probably call in again for help with understanding the results, as well as any medication that they may require. 

Providing the support required

Explaining test results and the implications may be a challenge, especially if you are unsure about the level of medical knowledge and even the language skills of the customer. But there are two measures that you can take to make things simpler for yourself and your customer alike. 

The first is to invest in suitable training for yourself or another member of your team who will take responsibility for this aspect of your business. Healthcare professionals may need to be aware of how to discuss the results, by taking into account an individual’s literacy levels and cultural practices and maybe having to share details with a family member or friend. A sympathetic and sensitive approach will be essential, and language skills may be useful. Consider different ways of delivering information, such as using leaflets and pictorial resources, and always, when in doubt, signpost people to NHS services.

The second is to provide a dedicated area for consultations. A comfortable and, above all, private area is essential. You cannot run the risk of private information being heard by other customers. 

Your pharmacy can provide the ideal setting to provide support for patients who have taken a self-test. The ability simply to walk in and get help rather than waiting for an appointment to talk about the results can be very beneficial for them, and mean additional business for you. Selling a range of self-testing kits and providing support services can help you build the value of your business to your customers  - and the amount of business that you do.

You can promote these services whenever a patient comes into the pharmacy to purchase a self-testing kit. Always make it clear that help is available, and talk to customers about how to get the most from using these tests when they buy them - and make sure you offer your help with dealing with the results. 

If you need to invest in training to improve your team’s skills, in creating a secure area for consultations within your pharmacy or have any other financial need, the simple answer is to get expert help. We have the experts you need in the sector and can help you find the most cost-effective ways to find the finances you need - from Asset Funding to a Merchant Cash Advance.

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