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Pharmacists get billing code to screen Albertans for COVID-19; asked to limit drug supplies

Calgary pharmacist sees increase in patients stockpiling medications admid COVID-19 fears
WATCH: A Calgary pharmacist is asking patients to avoid stockpiling medications during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blake Lough reports.

The Alberta government is asking pharmacists to help assess and screen people for COVID-19, but they won’t be testing for the virus at this time.

In a news release Thursday, the government said a new billing code was created for pharmacists to “help Albertans assess and screen for COVID-19.” They’re also asked to provide Albertans with information and advice about the novel coronavirus.

“We need to maximize the capabilities of our health professionals at this time,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.

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“Pharmacists have knowledge and experience in infectious diseases such as influenza and in helping Albertans with their questions and concerns. This measure acknowledges pharmacists’ role in the health system and in supporting patients.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: App lets Albertans meet with doctors through their smartphones

The service is initially limited to screening and the provision of information about COVID-19.

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However, the news release said Alberta Health and the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association will “remain in close collaboration on how to expand this role, should this be needed.

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“This could include direct referral for COVID-19 testing and supporting Health Link 811 in addressing Albertans’ information needs,” the news release explained.

The head of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association said her members were pleased by Alberta Health’s quick response to the pandemic and that it created a compensation structure to support the care pharmacists are providing.

“Pharmacists play an essential role in the management, assessment, and screening of patient health indicators and helping patients understand their COVID-19 risk is an important support for Albertans,” Margaret Wing said.

Pharmacist urges people not to hoard medicine during coronavirus outbreak
Pharmacist urges people not to hoard medicine during coronavirus outbreak

The government also recommended pharmacists — at their discretion — only provide a maximum 30-day supply of prescription drugs to patients.

This suggestion was made “to ensure Albertans have continued access to essential medications and help pharmacists manage drug supplies,” the province said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canadian drug wholesaler takes steps to prevent hoarding during COVID-19 pandemic

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in drug shortages due to global demand,” said Greg Eberhart, registrar of the Alberta College of Pharmacy.

“To ensure Albertans can access the medications they need, the Alberta College of Pharmacy supports measures that will reduce the likelihood of drug shortages by limiting prescription quantities to 30 days. This will assist in stabilizing our drug supply.”

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Albertans are being advised to consult with their pharmacist about timing if they need to refill their prescriptions more often.

To assist with the added cost, those with Alberta government-sponsored Coverage for Seniors and Non-Group coverage programs will pay a lower co-payment (of up to $8 per prescription) for a 30-day supply. The current co-payment is up to $25 per prescription, the government said.

“The changes announced today to limit prescription quantities to 30 days will help to ensure that Alberta pharmacists have the means to effectively manage the supply of medications to the benefit of all their patients,” Wing said.

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“Pharmacists are working tirelessly to ensure that patients continue to have access to prescription medications and this change should help to ease that pressure.”

READ MORE: Canadians ‘do not need to panic’ about food shortages amid COVID-19, experts say

Other provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, have either taken action or are in the process of implementing measures to protect drug supply chain stability.