Pharmacists' expanded scope of practice may reduce strain on health-care sector

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Rexall 8 - TWN

With the help of a pharmacist, many Ontarians can now treat their minor medical needs without a visit to a doctor first.

As of Jan. 1, 2023, pharmacists in Ontario can prescribe for 13 minor ailments such as urinary tract infections, cold sores, allergic reactions, acid reflux, and minor skin conditions.

Patients, busy parents, caregivers and Canadians alike, will no longer require a visit to their doctor’s office, walk-in clinic or local hospital to receive care for many minor illnesses. They can head straight to their local pharmacies instead.

Ricky Tiwana, Senior Director of Pharmacy Operations for Rexall Drugstore, considered this expanded scope of practice for pharmacists a big win for community members' access to health care.

Patients and Pharmacists

(Credit: Getty Images)

“This is game changing because of the burden our health care system is currently facing," Tiwana said. "We're increasing access to care, and more residents will be able to get their health-care needs met by visiting their local pharmacies. The Ontario government will be covering the service, there will be no additional charge for the assessment for anybody with an OHIP card.”

The decision to allow Ontario pharmacies to access and prescribe medication for common ailments was a decade in the making. Alberta was the first province to allow this aspect of care back in 2007.

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There are a number of accredited training programs in place for pharmacists across the country, including educational programs within the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA). In a public statement, the organization wrote that they are 'thrilled' to get started.

Pharmacist Map of Practices in Canada

“Empowering pharmacists to use their expertise to assess and treat minor ailments helps patients get the care they need sooner and closer to home,” stated Justin Bates, the OPA's Chief Executive Officer.

According to registered nurse Daniel Rose, expanding access to health care may reduce the strain on health-care workers and help alleviate capacity issues in emergency clinics, allowing more spots to open for patients with heftier conditions when they need it most.

“I think if we can get people with smaller problems out of the hospital and less taking up beds, they'll be better for the long run,” explained Rose.

A recent study out of the University of Waterloo confirmed this a possibility. The study used administrative databases across Ontario hospitals to estimate the rate of avoidable emergency department visits that potentially could have been managed by a pharmacist instead.

“They looked at data over a seven-year period, 2010 to 2017," explained Clinical Lecturer Dr. Nardine Nakhla. "What they found was really interesting…12.4 per cent of all emergency department visits were considered avoidable visits, and of those avoidable visits, almost one-third were things that could be managed by a pharmacist who had an expanded scope.”

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Incorporating pharmacists with an expanded scope into the community or within hospital emergency departments could significantly reduce the emergency department crowdedness as these pharmacists could have managed upwards of 1.5 million cases in Ontario, Dr. Naklha added.

Tiwana hopes this expansion will ease the minds of patients and health-care workers, especially during one of the most taxing seasons of the year.

“Winter is a very busy time of year," he added. "As we know, a lot of people are indoors and there's large gatherings so viruses tend to spread a little bit easier. Canadian weather can be challenging, so it's difficult to get around and especially to get in to see a health-care professional.”

While this new expanded scope of practice varies from pharmacy to pharmacy, all Rexall drugstores are offering the service by appointment and on a walk-in basis.

“We're very excited to be part of that solution and open more doors for busy parents, working professionals and students across the province,” Tiwana said.

With an increased aspect of care now available in local pharmacies, this expansion could help bring a lifeline to rural areas across the country where access to health care is limited.

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Whether you live in a small city or a metropolis, this expansion could make a major difference when it comes to accessing care for your minor health conditions across eight Canadian provinces.

What 13 minor illnesses can pharmacists in Ontario prescribe?

  • Allergic rhinitis

  • Candidal stomatitis (oral thrush)

  • Conjunctivitis (bacterial, allergic, and viral)

  • Dermatitis (atopic, eczema, allergic, and contact)

  • Dysmenorrhea

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Hemorrhoids

  • Herpes labialis (cold sores)

  • Insect bites and urticaria (hives)

  • Tick bites, post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease

  • Musculoskeletal sprains and strains

  • Impetigo

  • Urinary tract infections (uncomplicated)

To learn more, please watch the video that leads this article.