Why Pharmacists Are Your Greatest Healthcare Asset

Pharmacists are your most accessible healthcare professional. Here’s how their role has changed, and what they can do for you

Why Pharmacists Are Your Greatest Healthcare Asset

Your pharmacist can do more than just fill a prescription. Depending on the province you live in, your local pharmacist might be able to administer a travel vaccine, order and interpret lab tests or even prescribe medication for a minor ailment like a foot fungus picked up at the swimming pool.

‘Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals,’ says Philip Emberley, director of pharmacy innovation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. ‘The greater scope of their role is a reflection of the trust that Canadians have in the knowledge and skills of pharmacists.’ It also means that doctors’ offices are freed up for the treatment of more complicated conditions and that patients with minor concerns get quick, hassle-free care. 

Pharmacists in Alberta can do the most for patients, including provide emergency prescription refills, change a drug dosage or formulation and administer a drug by injection. A pharmacist’s role is expanding in other provinces and territories, too: Since 2010, among other services, Nova Scotia pharmacists have been able to adapt a prescription without consulting the doctor, which can involve changing the strength and quantity of a medication and how often it should be taken. They can also substitute a different drug in the same class of medication if what’s prescribed is unavailable or a cost issue for the patient (since generics are cheaper than brand names), as well as find a more appropriate alternative for a drug if they feel it could interact with the patient’s other meds.

Sandeep Sodhi, owner of Village Family PharmaChoice in Truro, NS, and chair of the board of directors for the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, has witnessed the expansion of the traditional primary role of dispensing medications first-hand. Over the past two to five years, he and his staff have been able to give various immunization injections, provide refills of meds in between doctor visits and assess and prescribe treatment for 31 minor ailments, including cold sores, seasonal allergies and skin conditions like eczema. (Pharmacists in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island can also prescribe meds for minor ailments.)

In addition to having access to a broader treatment toolbox, some pharmacists are becoming more specialized and receiving additional training and certification. One of Sodhi’s pharmacists has become a certified diabetes educator to better service patients with diabetes. His pharmacy also offers weekly clinics for foot care and orthotics, plus a fee-based blood-and-specimen collection conducted by a private company for patients who need blood work or urinalysis to monitor their conditions. ‘It feels great to be able to provide these services,’ says Sodhi. ‘That’s why pharmacists get into health care: to help improve people’s overall health.’

In the coming years, it’s likely that we’ll see the role of pharmacists expand even further. ‘I think their scope will continue to broaden, since one of seven Canadians doesn’t have a family doctor,’ says Emberley. It makes sense to check in at your drugstore with simple questions and concerns instead of sitting in a large lineup at a walk-in clinic or occupying space in a hospital emergency room. ‘Pharmacists won’t be able to treat everything, but they can steer patients in the right direction and initiate treatment.”