Dr. Allen TamAccording to Statistics Canada, in 2019 roughly 1.3 million Ontarians reported that they did not have access to a family physician.

Hospital emergency rooms are extremely busy, but a significant portion of avoidable ER visits can now be managed by pharmacists through the new expanded scope of practice for pharmacists, which gives them the ability to prescribe medications for 13 minor ailments.

Pharmacist Dr. Allen Tam (PharmD ’21) has experienced first-hand the benefits of Ontario’s Minor Ailments Program. From his role at community pharmacies to hospitals and healthcare centres, Tam has seen many different perspectives.

“The ability for pharmacists to prescribe and give patients access to medication in their moment of need helps prevent unnecessary hospital visits and offloads some of the burden our health-care colleagues face,” Tam says.

Dr. Allen Tam

Dr. Allen Tam presenting on the Minor Ailments Program at Kitchener Public Library.

Pharmacists free up time for family health providers so they can focus on more complex concerns, which results in both pharmacists and primary health-care physicians being able to service patients more effectively.

“It’s great to see professions supporting each other. Coming together as a team is crucial to a long-lasting health-care system,” Tam says.

Alleviating public concerns

In partnership with Kitchener Public Library, Tam recently held an information session at the Central Library branch to answer some questions the public had regarding the minor ailments program. A main concern was whether pharmacists are trained to prescribe medications.

“We certainly do have the education and knowledge to prescribe for minor ailments,” Tam says. “We’ve been counselling and assessing patients for over-the-counter medications and referring patients to see a primary care provider for years. Now we’re able to save the patient and physician time and prescribe the medication if we feel their ailment is treatable then and there.”

This expanded scope in Ontario is not new across Canada and other countries. For example, Alberta pharmacists have been prescribing for minor ailments since 2007.

Additionally, minor ailments are part of the School of Pharmacy curriculum. Students learn about minor ailments and must demonstrate competence before entering the workforce.

“I’d also like to reassure the public that prescribing is separate from dispensing where there’s any concerns of conflict-of-interest. Patients can have their minor ailment assessed at one pharmacy and may choose to bring their prescription to a different pharmacy to dispense it for them,” Tam says.

The future of pharmacy

The pandemic shed a light on how much a pharmacist can do. Alongside flu shots, pharmacists can also give COVID-19 vaccines. Most recently, pharmacists can prescribe Paxlovid for COVID-19. Due to this expanded scope, prescriptions for Paxlovid have more than doubled, leading to further reduction in hospitalized cases.

“We’ve seen an uptake in minor ailments at the community pharmacies I work at since the program launched earlier this year,” Tam says. “The next step my colleagues have proposed is to consider having a pharmacist on staff who just focuses on minor ailment prescribing through the form of a pharmacist led minor ailments clinic. This would alleviate the time management issues pharmacies are now facing to provide all patients with the adequate care they need.”