Why pharmacists say they could help ease health-care strain

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Canadian pharmacists are calling on provincial governments to expand what treatments they can provide patients, arguing it will help relieve a strained health-care system.

In a statement following its national summit, the Canadian Pharmacists Association said it is recommending governments “recognize and promote pharmacy as a first point of primary care.”

The association’s chief pharmacist officer, Danielle Paes, told Global News that pharmacists are well-positioned to help patients make health-care decisions given their clinical knowledge and availability in neighbourhoods.

She said pharmacists could provide injections and vaccinations, write prescriptions and do physical assessments for common ailments. Currently, what pharmacists are allowed to do varies by province, but Paes is calling for a consistent, standardized scope of practice across the country that would be achieved province by province, expanding their care.

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Ontario in October 2023 expanded the number of common ailments pharmacists can diagnose and treat to 19, adding six more. The province initiated prescribing power at the beginning of 2023 and said in October that 400,000 assessments had been done in the province since the program’s start.

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The ailments pharmacists can treat in Ontario include acne, canker sores and yeast infections, as well as nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy, diaper rash and parasitic worms such as pinworms and threadworms.

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Initially, the ailments included hay fever, oral thrush, pink eye, dermatitis, hemorrhoids and urinary tract infections.

Paes said pharmacists can prescribe for any medication in Alberta.

She said data shows there has been a decrease in ER visits with the newer model of care. A recent government report showed that pharmacy clinics in Nova Scotia have contributed to a nearly 10 per cent decline in emergency room visits for non-urgent or less urgent cases.

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“You shouldn’t be going to the emergency room to renew a prescription,” Paes said. “That’s something we can do.”

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However, the College of Family Physicians Canada told Global News in a statement that having “pharmacists provide front line access for minor ailments creates fragmentation, and often creates increased rather than decreased work for family physicians.”

“The CFPC supports interprofessional collaboration but not substitution as a part of a solution to the health workforce crisis,” the statement read.

“If a pharmacist is integrated, even virtually, as part of the health care team with access to patient records and integrated with the family physicians’ care plans then this is helpful.”

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