Lovell Drugs , Whitby ON
By Parvaneh Pessian
When Rita Winn started working as a pharmacist more than 30 years ago, her job consisted of “counting the pills, making sure that we got the prescription right, and following the orders from the doctor.”
Much has changed since then, she says, as the role of pharmacies continues to evolve across the country. Whether it’s for flu shots, prescription renewals, smoking cessation programs or wellness counselling, people are dropping by to see their local pharmacist for many more reasons these days.
“We’ve been in the community for over 100 years and we feel really strongly about the relationship the patient has with the pharmacist,” said Ms. Winn, chief operating officer at Lovell Drugs.
“Our store is open seven days a week, and it’s easy if you’re not feeling well, instead of going to a clinic or going to (the emergency room), people come in or call and ask all kinds of questions.”
In 2012, the Ontario government passed regulations allowing pharmacists to use their education and training to provide a broader range of patient services.
Pharmacists can now renew prescriptions for up to six months or for the length of the original prescription -- whichever is less. They can alter the formulation of a prescription (for example, from a liquid to a capsule); change the regimen (take four times a day instead of twice a day); or adjust the dose of the medication. Pharmacists in Ontario can prescribe medications to help patients quit smoking and through wellness counselling, they can demonstrate to patients the proper use of devices such as glucose meters, inhalers, and epi-pens.
At the Whitby branch of Lovell Drugs recently, Ms. Winn spoke about the benefits of these additional services, including increased convenience for patients and a more efficient and cost-effective use of health care resources.
“The health care system is stressed; there are a lot of people waiting, you can’t always get into the physician’s office when you need, and there are a lot of complicated cases,” she said.
“We can help physicians by taking the load off so that they can focus their time on people that really need their help and we can handle some of the easier, less complicated things, such as flu shots.”
More than 2,500 pharmacies in Ontario now have trained pharmacists who can administer the flu vaccine to patients aged five and older. In 2013, pharmacists in Ontario injected more than 650,000 people with the vaccine -- a huge jump from 250,000 the previous year.
Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott was invited to the Whitby pharmacy on Nov. 21 to receive her flu shot and learn more about the expanded services available to patients. Her visit was part of the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association’s “Healthcare Closer to Home” initiative, which involves enlisting the help of politicians to promote the delivery of professional health care at neighbourhood pharmacies.
“We still have a shortage of family physicians so for people to be able to have routine things done in the community I think is really important,” said Ms. Elliott, who also serves as health critic for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
“Flu shots are just sort of the opening but there are so many other things that can be done, especially as people are struggling with diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and other chronic conditions. I think pharmacists are in a unique position to be able to provide those kinds of services.”
In addition to showcasing patient benefits of the expanded scope of practice across Ontario, the Healthcare Closer to Home program also underscores areas where there is room for further expansion.
Additional services pharmacists could provide include prescribing for minor ailments, such as cold sores and back pain, according to the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada. Studies show that general practitioners spend around 15 per cent of their time treating patients with minor ailments so sending these patients to the pharmacy instead can help focus their attention on patients with more complex care needs.
Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia currently allow pharmacists to prescribe for minor ailments and New Brunswick has passed legislation that is in the process of being implemented.
“Other provinces are more the forerunners of this whole concept of getting pharmacists most involved, especially on the front line and taking some of the stress off the doctors,” said Hady Shu, a pharmacist at Lovell Drugs in Whitby.
“We’re not the pill counters ... I definitely feel that it’s very important that we are recognized as part of the health care team.”