Cancer care pharmacy provides friendly face and robust care through pandemic

Thursday, March 18, 2021

In November 2019, Jason Wentzell, a regional clinical coordinator for Waterloo Pharmacy, opened Extend Pharmacy. This specialty pharmacy is dedicated to serving cancer patients and caregivers. Four months later, COVID-19 hit Canada.

“It was a tough decision to leave the Ottawa Hospital after 10 years as an oncology pharmacist there,” Jason says. “And at that point, we didn’t even know we’d be dealing with a global pandemic. We knew we had to persevere through COVID – we had a passionate and very qualified team and were well positioned to address a gap in care that only grew with the pandemic.”

Four staff members of Extend in the pharmacy wearing masks

Left to right: Tina Crosbie, Shannon Gallagher, Meghan Hayes, Jason Wentzell

Working with cancer patients at the Ottawa Hospital, Jason saw first-hand how they often needed support managing their medications. Cancer treatments have been shifting from infusions administered in hospitals to patient-administered medications at home and, as a result, patients saw their physicians and nurses less often.  Extend Pharmacy was designed to fill in this gap, providing medication education, dispensing and one-on-one appointments with patients on a regular basis.

“I developed the business model as part of completing a Masters of Health Management. Very quickly, it became evident that this was a viable business model that would address a real-world need,” Jason says. “Supported by an incredible team, we decided to take the plunge in 2019 and open Extend.”

Extend’s team is entirely made up of pharmacists. The small group has a collective forty-plus years of experience in cancer care, with specific expertise in oncology, hematology, transplant medications and more. Working with this team, Jason and Meghan Hayes, Extend Pharmacy’s Manager, built a practice that takes patients on a referral basis and uses an appointment-based system to meet and follow up with patients throughout the course of their cancer care.

“Our patients very much appreciate the strong relationships we build and the continuous care we provide.” Jason says. “We have regular appointments and liaise with the patient’s oncology and primary care teams to adjust medications if necessary, address side effects and answer any questions patients or their caregivers have about their cancer treatments. We work with our patients proactively to help ensure their treatment is being taken correctly and safely at home.”

Tina Crosbie at a whiteboard drawing an explanation for someone

Tina Crosbie in one of the counselling rooms

The pharmacy is set up for in-person appointments but shifted online in response to COVID-19 public health restrictions. They also developed and rolled out an online platform where patients can log their symptoms and experiences for the Extend Pharmacy team to see. Since opening their doors, the innovative practice has only grown in popularity.

“We’re the only pharmacy of our kind that we know of, and I think we’ve demonstrated the tremendous impact that pharmacists can have here,” Jason says. “Oncology pharmacy is such a good space to truly get to know and support patients and their families and for me it’s so rewarding. It’s constantly evolving – you have to stay on top of your therapeutics, changes in care standards and have a deep understanding of insurance and billing.”

As a regional clinical coordinator for Waterloo Pharmacy, Jason also coordinates senior student patient care rotations – six-month work placements required for PharmD education – throughout the Ottawa Region. Extend Pharmacy hosted five students in 2020 and welcomed 2021 students this month.

Shannon Gallagher (below), a class of 2020 alumnus, was one of these students. After a rewarding rotation experience with Extend, she joined their team part-time in 2020. She now completes a variety of projects and in-depth teaching and counseling on oral anticancer medications and helps manage side effects and monitor oncology therapy.

Shannon wearing a mask and sitting at a table talking to someone

“Working at Extend, I’ve seen the difference pharmacists can make in a cancer patient’s care,” she says. “In addition to the clinical care we provide, just providing a friendly face or voice over the phone and supporting patients during this difficult time in their lives is extremely rewarding.”

As Extend continues to grow, Jason is grateful for his exceptional and growing team.

“This is ultimately an incredibly collaborative practice, between our Extend team and our patients and with local cancer care providers.  Going forward, we’re going to continue to leverage technology and clinical expertise to help scale up our pharmacist services in a way to ensure we strive to improve the cancer medication experience for patients and their families within our community.”

March is Pharmacy Appreciation Month. This month, in our #PAM2021 series, the School of Pharmacy is highlighting the unique ways that the pharmacy community has supported Canadians through the pandemic.

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