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BC Pharmacists Can Now Deal with Basic Ailments and Contraception

Changes mean they can assess patients and prescribe medications for things like pinkeye.

Michelle Gamage 6 Jun 2023The Tyee

Michelle Gamage is The Tyee’s health reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

British Columbians suffering from pink eye, shingles, a urinary-tract infection, hemorrhoids or in need of contraception can now head to their local pharmacy rather than a doctor’s office to get medication.

As of June 1, B.C. pharmacists were able to assess patients and prescribe for 21 minor ailments and contraception, that previously required a visit to a doctor or nurse.

“This not only makes it easier and faster for patients to access these services, it also takes pressure off the primary care providers and our public health-care system as a whole,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

Christine Antler, a pharmacist and region director of pharmacy for Pharmasave West, said the 21 conditions are ones managed with minimal treatment, are short-term, don’t require lab results to assess and have a low risk of masking other conditions.

Pharmacists will still do a clinical assessment on all patients, check for medical history or other red flags that could suggest a more serious condition and can refer the patient to a doctor or nurse if needed, Antler said.

Pharmacists can also offer people advice on chronic care management such as living with diabetes, and offer a medication review to see if all of your medications are working for you, Antler said.

Dix says there are 6,500 trained pharmacists who could be offering this care, “so why not use them?”

He calculates the change will help 35,000 patients per month see a pharmacist instead of a doctor or nurse.

There are around 1,400 community pharmacies in B.C. and 1,100 can now offer assessments and prescriptions, said Chris Chiew, president of the BC Pharmacy Association.

The other 300 pharmacies will likely offer these services soon as they work out how to bring the practice into their business, he added.

These are all ailments that pharmacists are trained to treat while in school, Chiew added.

As of June 29, British Columbians can visit the SeeAPharmacist website to find a pharmacist in their area providing the service, similar to the portal that told people where they could find a pharmacy offering COVID-19 vaccinations.

Vincent Yeung, a pharmacist with Shoppers Drug Mart, said he’s been in the business for 39 years and that this is one of the biggest changes he's seen.

Because pharmacies are open evenings, weekends and holidays, pharmacists are already interacting with patients and offering medical advice, he says.

When patients have cold sores, pink eye or fungal infections they don’t want to go to the ER where staff are tied up with more urgent cases, he says.

Pharmacists have knowledge, training and can offer an immediate treatment plan.

“We will be able to deliver a much needed service to B.C.,” Yeung says.

Gabby Sarnoh, a student at Vancouver Community College, says she faced debilitating pain every month starting at 13 because of her period and it took her years — until she graduated from high school — before she was able to see a doctor and access treatment.

Jessie Niikoi, an international student at Camosun College in Victoria, also faced 12-hour wait times in an ER while suffering from a UTI. Many international students have similar stories of struggling to find a doctor who can see them, she says.

Allowing pharmacists to assess and prescribe medication for patients and freeing up doctors and nurses is the “best thing that has ever happened” for health care in B.C., she says.

This service is limited to British Columbians with a personal health number.

Chiew says in next steps pharmacists could help assess patients for things like strep throat or diabetes.

Other provinces in Canada, like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario have already given pharmacists assessment and prescription powers. Antler says this move aligns B.C. with the rest of the country.

“In less than a year B.C. has made huge changes in what pharmacists can do,” she says. “There’s more of an awareness in the full role of today’s pharmacist as part of someone’s health-care team.”

In October, B.C. allowed pharmacists to adapt and renew prescriptions for a wider range of drugs and conditions and allowed them to provide prescription doses by injection or nasal administration.

In March 2023 B.C. made contraception free.

This move is part of B.C.’s Health Human Resources strategy, which will also implement a new family doctor payment model, create more seats in schools to train new health-care professionals, help internationally educated health-care professionals move to B.C. and add supports for people in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health

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