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East Hants pharmacy sees rise in ‘panicked’ patients with several family doctors leaving area

East Hants pharmacists feeling impact of several family doctors leaving area
WATCH: Some patients aren’t sure how to get their prescriptions without a family doctor and there are issues with what drugs can be prescribed without a primary care provider. Alexa MacLean has more.

As another family doctor prepares to close his clinic in the East Hants region, pharmacists in the area are dealing with the pressures caused by patients not knowing where to turn to have prescriptions refilled, or new medications prescribed.

“Some people are just panicked because they’re on medications and they’re not sure what’s going to happen once they call the doctors office and the doctor isn’t there,” Glenn Rodrigues said, a pharmacist in Elmsdale, N.S.

Pharmacists have had their prescribing scope expanded but there are still widespread limitations to what they can prescribe people who don’t have access to a family doctor. Including, pain and anxiety medications.
Pharmacists have had their prescribing scope expanded but there are still widespread limitations to what they can prescribe people who don’t have access to a family doctor. Including, pain and anxiety medications. Elmsdale pharmacy

Rodrigues says many patients are expressing anxiety and concern over what avenues to follow once they lose access to their primary care provider.

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Pharmacists in the community are working with physicians to provide information to patients and explain how prescribing changes for pharmacists can help alleviate some of the pressure.

“There’s been an expansion in some of the areas where we can prescribe. Like, uncomplicated bladder infections, shingles and birth control,” Rodrigues said.

READ MORE: ‘I needed help’: East Hants doctor says he asked government for more support for ‘several’ years

However, Rodrigues says there are limitations with the amount of time a pharmacists can prescribe one of those medications before a patient needs to see a doctor.

“If there’s things where we can subjectively assess the patients symptoms, we can provide them with an interim supply. Now, in some situations where the pharmacy may not be able to do as in-depth an assessment as needed – we may not give a six-month supply. We may provide a shorter day supply, until they can get into to see another care provider,” Rodrigues said.

Many drugs can only be prescribed through a family doctor. Primarily, any sort of pain and anti-depressant related medications.

READ MORE: Family of 91-year-old rural N.S. man scrambling to find him a family doctor

“Narcotics like codeine, morphine, hydromorphone products. Also, medications used for anxiety, the benzodiazepines classes of drugs and even stimulants used for ADHD,” Rodrigues said.

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There are several physician vacancies in the East Hants region that the Nova Scotia Health Authority is working to fill.

The authority says several physicians have visited the area but none have committed to taking on any of the vacant practices.

One of the challenges the department faces is finding doctors interested in taking on small, or solo practices.

READ MORE: N.S. to fund pharmacists prescribing birth control, UTI, shingles medications

The upcoming retirement of Dr. David Sheehy in Shubenacadie means another 1,500 plus people will lose access to their primary-care provider.

The health authority encourages people without a family doctor to sign up for the provincial family doctor wait list, ‘811 Need a Family Practice Registry’.

As of January 1, 2020 there were 46,914 names on registry, down 11 per cent from January 1, 2019.  Much of that decrease comes from the highly populated Central zone which includes the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The health authority says patients who require prescriptions have the option to go to a walk-in clinic, or an emergency department.

However, Rodrigues says there are challenges that come with those suggestions.

“I would say if there’s one area where there’s a little more concern, it’s that because a lot of the walk-in clinics, or emergency departments, won’t regularly prescribe narcotics, or controlled drugs. So, we don’t really have a good solution for patients in those situations,” he said.

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With files from Alicia Draus