May 2019: The Rural Pharmacist: Minor Ailments Prescribing is Coming!

The Rural Pharmacist: Minor Ailments Prescribing is Coming!

-Henry Tempelman, Pharmacist & Owner

April Showers bring May Flowers.. maybe not as quickly as we would like but the seasonal promise comes true sooner or later. April also brought us Premier Doug Ford’s budget (spoiler alert: no flowers). While there may have been surprises – good or bad, but we won’t go there - there was a welcoming addition to the pharmacist’s scope of practice and one that will benefit all Ontarians. Pharmacists will be allowed to diagnose and treat minor ailments by this time next year, and that ability will allow patients the convenience of access to timely care and reduce the stress on emergency rooms and physicians.

            With the previous Liberal government, pharmacists’ scope expanded, and Ontarians benefited. For example, pharmacists were given the opportunity to administer flu shots which improved public access to flu vaccines, and further strengthens “herd immunity” (when a high proportion of individuals are immune to a disease then that disease is less likely to spread throughout a population). Another example was the ability for pharmacists to assess patients and renew prescriptions in certain circumstances, such as providing a short-term supply of prescription medication for a chronic condition when they had no refills remaining. This improves patient compliance of important chronic medication and also gives the primary care provider more time to treat patients that require care rather than filling paperwork to renew medications.

Minor ailment prescribing is the next step in making health care easier to access and reducing the stress on emergency rooms and walk in clinics. Minor ailments include, but are not limited to, acid reflux, cold sores, uncomplicated strep throat and sinus infections, acne, skin rashes,.  The Ontario Pharmacists Association is open to adding other conditions to the list as they work towards making this proposed practice a reality by this time next year. Pharmacists are qualified to be more than pill dispensers and it is encouraging to see our knowledge base and skills become more utilized to improve patient care.

Ontario is a little late to the party on this practice, but better late than never! Eight other provinces currently have pharmacist minor ailment prescribing and New Brunswick pharmacists, for example, are cleared to diagnose and treat 32 medical problems. Pharmacist minor ailment prescribing will be a great tool for health care and it further promotes the collaborative team approach when it comes to managing patient care. It will be important for pharmacists, doctors, nurses, etc. to communicate and utilize each other’s expertise to optimize patient care.  (Will electronic health records be next up? To facilitate communication between health professionals and patients, yes please!)

This should also reduce missed work time for Ontarians. Rather than taking time off work to attend an appointment for a low-grade issue they can visit their pharmacy after work or on weekends to receive a prescription. There are other times where, in my practice, a patient has come in and I’ve had to refer them to their doctor or walk-in clinic and that patient returns 4 to 6 hours later holding a prescription for the same product I would have prescribed, if I had the opportunity. This will save time and money for both patients and government.

Our pharmacies in Rosslyn and Kakabeka Falls will be especially primed to offer this minor ailment prescribing once it is launched. As smaller rural pharmacies, our pharmacist team has a personal relationship with our patients where we are aware of individual health history, along with the time and level of familiarity with our patients that can be more difficult to maintain at larger corporate stores. The level of care and health education that we strive to offer will get stronger and our patients will ultimately benefit.

We aim to make our rural pharmacies more than just a dispensary where you pick up your pills. We strive to be a health centre and a resource where you can receive 1 on 1 medication consultations, flu shots or other vaccines, INR monitoring, communicate suggestions or med changes to your primary care provider, blister packaging, smoking cessation prescribing, telemedicine walk-in clinc, and now minor ailment prescribing!