New year brings new responsibilities for Ontario pharmacists
If you are feeling a bit under the weather in the new year, you may not need to wait for a doctor’s appointment to get the relief you require. As of Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, Ontarians will be able to stop in at pharmacies across the province to get a prescription to fight 13 “common ailments.”
In a news release Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2022, the Ontario government defined “common ailments” as health conditions that can be reliably self-diagnosed and managed with self-care strategies and/or minimal treatment.
This is great news, said Tarek Hussein, pharmacist and co-founder of Weller Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy in Kingston’s north end. “I am very excited. I think almost every pharmacist in Ontario should be very excited about that.”
Ontario pharmacists will be able to offer prescriptions for the following conditions: hay fever (allergic rhinitis); oral thrush (candidal stomatitis); pink eye (conjunctivitis: bacterial, allergic, and viral); dermatitis (atopic, eczema, allergic, and contact); menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea); acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)); hemorrhoids; cold sores (herpes labialis); impetigo; insect bites and hives; tick bites (post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease); sprains and strains (musculoskeletal); and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Hussein said assisting clients with common ailments is something pharmacists have always done, but he is glad he will now be able to offer another level of care. “Pharmacists have already been trained during their education and all the professional training that they are required to do every year to assess minor ailments. So this is something that is not new. We’ve been doing this for years… assessing self-limiting conditions, and giving advice to patients. Some of those even can be resolved through giving over-the-counter medication.”
He offered the example of a rash that might be treated with over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, but sometimes might need a stronger dose than is available over-the-counter: “[Now] we can help you get an extra step [of treatment] because the… options over-the-counter are limited.”
In the news release, the Ontario government predicted that allowing pharmacists to prescribe for these common ailments will make it more convenient for Ontarians to receive the care they need, help increase access to care in rural parts of Ontario, and give doctors more time to focus on the more complex needs of their patients. Theoretically, this move could reduce wait times for those services.
These changes are being made in partnership with the Ontario College of Pharmacists. According to Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, “Empowering pharmacists to use their expertise to assess and treat minor ailments helps patients get the care they need sooner and closer to home — but the benefits go much further. It reduces demand on hospitals, emergency departments, walk-in clinics, and family physicians. It also frees up time for our healthcare partners, allowing doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to focus on more complex care cases.”
The release also noted that three of the province’s biggest pharmacy chains are also on board with the plan.
Nicolas Caprio, President of Rexall Pharmacy Group, commented, “We know that pharmacists are critical to the delivery of accessible health care in the province, and we are excited to be able to assess and prescribe the necessary medication for the 13 identified minor ailments. We’re pleased that all our Rexall stores in Ontario will be participating and continue to be part of the solution to help a strained healthcare system, for the benefit of the people in Ontario.”
Smita Patil, Vice President of Retail Member Relations and Professional Affairs at McKesson Canada, agreed that the move will make health care more accessible and efficient, and said, “Our independent pharmacists at Guardian, I.D.A., Remedy’sRx, and The Medicine Shoppe have a long history of assisting patients in communities across the province.”
Similarly, Jeff Leger, President of Shoppers Drug Mart, expressed commitment to the new concept.
“With over 800 locations across the province,” he said, “our pharmacy teams stand ready to help provide this service at no cost to Ontarians.”
For his part, Hussein is pleased that this is just one more way he can serve his community.
“Weller Pharmacy is an independent community pharmacy, it’s a neighbourhood pharmacy,” he said, noting that, at the end of February 2023, his pharmacy will have served the neighbourhood for eight years.
“We know our patients by name… We know even [the whole] family sometimes because they are in the same neighbourhood,”
Hussein expressed that the new prescription service will continue to foster those relationships.
“Our patients and clients are not just transactions or numbers. We really care about them… we try to go above and beyond to help the community and provide the best service we can,” he said.
Since pharmacies can choose whether or not to offer the prescription service, anyone with symptoms should contact their local pharmacy before visiting to confirm whether it offers prescriptions for common ailments. As well, an Ontario Health Card is necessary to access the service. You can visit ontario.ca/commonailments for more details.