In its recently announced budget, the provincial government proposed expanding pharmacist scope to allow pharmacists to prescribe for common ailments.
“The Waterloo School of Pharmacy is thrilled with the recent announcement that the provincial government will allow pharmacists to treat patients with common ailments,” says David Edwards, Hallman Director for the Waterloo School of Pharmacy. “This recognizes the expertise that pharmacists have in managing these conditions. We are grateful for the work that the Ontario Pharmacists Association has done in advocating for this change in scope of practice which will further improve the health of Ontarians.”
Common ailments are generally defined as uncomplicated medical conditions that can be diagnosed and managed without medical intervention. These include conditions like pink eye or athlete’s foot, menstrual cramps, headaches, and more. In every Canadian province except Ontario and British Columbia, pharmacists can assess patients for these conditions and prescribe the appropriate medication, if deemed necessary.
“While non-prescription medications can effectively manage certain conditions, many common ailments require prescription drugs for effective and long-term treatment,” says Professor Nardine Nakhla of the Waterloo School of Pharmacy. “Under these circumstances, allowing pharmacists – knowledgeable, easily accessible, and skilled clinicians – to assess and prescribe would eliminate the need for many of these patients to seek care elsewhere (e.g., emergency department), improving the efficiency of health care, reducing physician visits and wait times, and increasing the accessibility to prescription drugs,”
Between 10-20% of a physician’s workload and 5% of ER consultations in some countries are for common ailments.1 Pharmacists, who are highly-trained in medication management and experienced in counselling on medications, can alleviate some of this stress by allowing these patients to have their conditions assessed and managed appropriately right at the pharmacy.
Ontario pharmacy students receive extensive training in patient assessment and medication management. They must have at least six years of post-secondary education, four of that at pharmacy school, and write a provincial licensing examine to be able to practice in Ontario. At the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, this training is complemented by eighteen months of on-the-job experience in co-op placements and rotations at community pharmacies, hospitals, health centres, and other clinical environments.
Pharmacists are some of Canada’s most accessible and trusted health care professionals, and in Ontario alone there are over 11,000 pharmacists practicing in community pharmacies.
“I am ecstatic that we will have this tremendous opportunity to do more to optimize therapy for patients suffering from common ailments, thereby making health care more accessible and efficient in our province,” says Nakhla. “Upon legislative approval, we will need to raise awareness of the symptoms and ailments that the new scope will cover. Pharmacists will have a key role to play in helping change health-seeking behaviours of Ontarians, encouraging them to reach out to their pharmacists for management of such ailments.”
The budget did not specify exactly how the new model will work, though Health Minister Christine Elliott said the intent is to have the services covered by OHIP.
“There are disparities in terms of authority and scope across the Canadian provinces that do allow prescriptive authority for pharmacists,” explains Nakhla. “I am hopeful that in Ontario we will follow Alberta’s footsteps, allowing pharmacists to be more autonomous in their clinical decision-making and where pharmacists are reimbursed for assessment of the patient, independent of whether or not the assessment results in a prescription.”
1Fielding S, Porteous T, Ferguson J, et al. Estimating the burden of minor ailment consultations in general practices and emergency departments through retrospective review of routine data in North East Scotland. Fam Pract. 2015;32(2):165-172.