By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
In communities across the province, Manitobans don’t have easy access to health care. Physician shortages have left many without a family doctor and ER closures have moved health care that’s accessible on short notice further down the highway.
Necessity is the mother of invention and shortages when it comes to finding family physicians have forced the government to re-evaluate the ways in which some health services are provided. Manitobans need to see a doctor for many potentially life-threatening conditions, but also for a lot of routine ones. Across the province, waiting rooms are clogged with people who need medical exams for insurance purposes, vaccinations, or prescriptions to treat common, but not life-threatening, ailments.
For many Manitobans, these benign doctor’s visits can be a huge undertaking. They might have to schedule an appointment weeks in advance, take time off work or travel to a completely different community. None of this makes health care accessible and has a huge cost to both individuals and the health care system. Not being able to get in and address these needs can result in minor issues becoming major ones.
While a family physician may be hard to find in some communities, there is one form of health care that is quite accessible– pharmacists. Located in communities across the province, pharmacists are available regular, or extended, retail hours and you can talk to them without an appointment. They also tend to be members of the community, with a personal connection to their clients and their health.
In 2013, the Manitoba government announced new legislation that expanded what pharmacists are able to do. These expanded services, which came into effect in 2014, allow pharmacists to issue short-term refill prescriptions for patients with chronic diseases who couldn’t make it to their doctor. It also allows them to undergo additional training in order to provide more health care services, including providing vaccinations for influenza and travel, and prescribe medications for what are known as self-limiting conditions. These are straight forward conditions with safe and effective drugs available for their treatment, such as athlete’s foot and acne. In Alberta, pharmacists have had these capabilities since 2007.
Pharmacists in Manitoba are looking for expanded prescribing powers and for many routine medications, it makes a lot of sense. It never seemed like an efficient use of medical resources to make an appointment for an initial prescription, and especially for a renewal, of common, safe and non-addictive medications. After all, a pharmacists is capable of taking a blood pressure reading and asking medical questions, then referring anything but the most straightforward cases to a physician for assessment.
I think things are changing within the profession, but we’ve all had experiences with physicians who do nothing but prescribe ever more medications after the most cursory of assessments. While pharmacists do make money filling prescriptions, for many patients, seeing a doctor certainly isn’t resulting in outcomes that aren’t medication-focused. Not only are pharmacists very accessible, many people also feel that their pharmacist is more approachable and has more time to talk to them. Patients want to know about what they have been prescribed, they want to know about their medication, what it will do, what it won’t do and what it could do. Pharmacists are required to tell you this information when first filling your prescription.
In a stretched health care system that sometimes doesn’t have as much time as it should for patients, allowing pharmacists to play an expanded role makes sense. Their education has been focused on understanding medications and how they work, they should be able to use this training to inform patients and help ensure they’re getting the medication they need, when they need it.