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Pharmacists need to spread the word – we can be your go-to healthcare hub!

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Canadian consumers are generally aware of the many roles pharmacists play in their healthcare, but opportunities still exist to better educate the public on their knowledge, skills and unique professional abilities to support expanded services.

By Talbot Boggs

“Whether it’s prescription services, personal care products or clinical services, today’s health consumers want it all from their pharmacy,” Anne Marie Wright, president of Elements Strategy, told a Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy conference. “The priority is on expertise, convenience and accessibility. However, studies have also shown that the public generally is unaware of the full range of roles and responsibilities of a pharmacist.”

Pharmacists are still ranked among the most trusted professionals. Canadians’ favourable impression of pharmacists continues to grow, and patients believe pharmacists have a central role to play in their healthcare. The majority feel pharmacists can do more than just fill prescriptions and believe they can play a valuable role in the treatment of minor ailments.

“Patients really appreciate advice, support and consultation services from their pharmacists in both large and small pharmacies,” said Dawn Richards, vice president of the Canadian Arthritis Patients Alliance. “Specifically, they really like renewal of long-term medications, information about chronic diseases and treatment, help in finding financial coverage and information on medications and side effects.”

Patients today view pharmacists as being active participants in their healthcare team. “They are confident in pharmacists providing key services,” said Philip Emberley, director of pharmacy innovation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. “The trust level of pharmacists remains high and is growing, and the public is receptive to their taking on a larger role in their healthcare.”

Since so many Canadians have limited access to a family physician, pharmacists have a real role to play in managing and treating chronic diseases and minor ailments. Patients actually see their pharmacist seven times more frequently than they see their family doctor. Pharmacies gave two million of the 9.5 million flu shots administered across the country last year, provinces are moving ahead with approvals for pharmacists to administer the shingles vaccine, and treatment of minor ailments is increasing, said Koon Leung, director, pharmacy category programs for Shoppers Drug Mart.

A survey for Shoppers found that 76 per cent of patients would have sought medical treatment of a minor ailment from a family doctor, through a walk-in clinic or emergency room, or treated themselves if the service had not been available from a pharmacy. Ninety five per cent of patients found the service useful, and 100 per cent said they would use it again.

Last year Shoppers began a pilot flu screening program in its Alberta stores. Thirty per cent of those screened tested positive for influenza, and one third of those patients received an anti-viral from their pharmacist. “This was considered an historic watershed moment for pharmacy in Canada to be able to test and treat a person for the flu,” said Leung.

Specialty McKesson Canada pharmacies in British Columbia are participating in pilot programs that are extending the level of care to new heights. Two Vancouver Medicine Shoppe pharmacists trained by HIV hospital nurses now offer customers an optional, quick HIV test for free. Each pharmacy is located next to a medical walk-in clinic where doctors provide support and link patients to care and treatment, if necessary.
Another BC pharmacy has become part of a program designed to improve medication adherence, reduce potential drug reactions, and improve medication safety for patients following a transplant.

“Transplant pharmacies have been recognized as an essential part of the multidisciplinary team,” said Neil Donald, director, private payer relations and business development with McKesson. “To truly meet customer needs, pharmacists need to become passionate about something and then become a champion for it.”