Why Aren't We Using the Knowledge, Skill, and Accessibility of Our Pharmacists
Education and Advocacy Canadians shouldn't be at the mercy of their postal code for health care services. Find out why pharmacists can do so much more than dispense medications.
Timely and convenient access to health care is something we all want, but often we are forced to wait days to see a doctor or go to the emergency room for what could be a simple diagnosis. What if you knew there were highly-skilled health care professionals in your community who could assess and treat common ailments such as pink eye or mild skin irritations, help manage chronic diseases, and provide a host of other services, in most cases without the need for an appointment?
These health care professionals are pharmacists, and in most provinces, they have been given an expanded scope of practice to provide a range of health services. But Ontario pharmacists are the outliers, as they are not allowed to offer the same kind of care as their colleagues in other parts of the country.
"Canadians shouldn't be at the mercy of their postal code for health care services and unlike many other health care professionals, there is very little consistency across the country around what pharmacists can do for their patients," says Christine Hrudka, Chair of the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA). "Shouldn't Canadians get the same level of care from their pharmacist no matter where they live?"
An untapped resource
"Pharmacists in Ontario are being held back, and it's negatively impacting patient care and the sustainability of our health system. People aren't getting timely access to care, and doctor's offices and hospitals are clogged with people who don't really need to be there," says Allan Malek, Executive Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer with the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA). "If someone has a common ailment that is mild and isn't severe, but bothersome to the patient experiencing it, pharmacists have the training and expertise to assess and treat it."
Pharmacists today can do much more than dispense medications.
Malek adds that pharmacists know when someone has an eye infection, a urinary tract infection or severe menstrual cramps and how to treat it, but in Ontario they are obligated to send them to the emergency room or to their doctor, only to have the patient come back to the pharmacy several hours or even days later to fill the same prescription they would have given them. Experiences in many other provinces show that getting care from a pharmacist is more convenient, timely, and saves the system money.
Common sense medicine
"It just makes sense," Malek says. "No one wants to be bounced around to different health care providers when they are already bothered by symptoms. We can help create a more efficient health system and make for a better patient experience." And Ontarians agree. In a survey conducted in early March 2019 by CPhA, 75% of Ontario respondents believe it is a very good or good idea to allow pharmacists to prescribe for common ailments like pink eye, urinary tract infections or ear infections. As a start, OPA would like to see the Ontario government make regulatory changes so pharmacists can treat 10 common conditions including pink eye, mild eczema, and mild forms of strep throat.
"We can help create a more efficient health system and make for a better patient experience."
– Allan Malek, Ontario Pharmacists Association
Pharmacists today can do much more than dispense medications. They have seven years of post-secondary education and graduate with doctorate degrees — Ontario pharmacists would like to see their skills used in a more useful manner. "Every other province has moved forward because they see how pharmacists can help to better manage their health care system," says Peter Dumo, a PharmD pharmacist who has been practising for 24 years. "Ontario is lagging behind, patients are significantly inconvenienced when my colleagues and I are restricted from offering the type of care we're actually trained to provide."
Dumo has arranged collaborative agreements with physicians to provide certain services, including disease management and counselling to patients. Sandra Hobson is one of his regular patients. For three decades she struggled with an addiction to anti-anxiety medication, but through counselling offered by Dumo, has been able to wean herself off the pills. "I had no idea pharmacists could provide this type of care. We take for granted what they can do," she notes. "Dr. Dumo explained the medication's effects and took time with me. He's been able to change my life in a very positive way."
It's time to rethink pharmacy and experience improvements in our health care through greater interactions with our pharmacists.