QUESTION: I am planning to move from Calgary to rural Ontario. Since I expect it will take some time to find a family doctor there, how do I get my prescriptions renewed while I am searching for a G.P.?
ANSWER: In recent years, the provinces have introduced measures that make it easier for patients to transfer their prescriptions from another part of Canada.
What you first need to do is go to your family doctor and asked for a new prescription in order to cover the initial period that you will be in Ontario. For instance, you may want your doctor to give you enough medication on the prescription to cover you for a year. You can take this prescription to your Calgary pharmacy where it will be put on file.
Then you need to find a local pharmacy in your new Ontario community. Simply give the Ontario pharmacy the contact information for your existing Calgary pharmacy and ask for your prescriptions to be transferred.
The process is relatively simple. "One pharmacy just calls the other pharmacy," explains Karen Lam, a pharmacist with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. You can also take the prescription directly to the new pharmacy.
However, there are a few restrictions. Most provinces don't allow the interprovincial transfer of prescriptions for so-called "controlled" drugs that include narcotics and other medications that might be misused or abused.
Insurance coverage is another matter you need to consider before making the move.
Many provinces cover the medication costs of seniors and certain other groups. But you must be a resident of a province for three months before you qualify for these programs.
If you are a senior, and depend on provincial drug coverage, then you may want to talk to your Calgary pharmacist to see if you can get a three-month supply of medication to take with you to Ontario.
So, with a three-month supply (possibly) in hand, plus prescription renewals stretching out for a year, you should have enough time to find a new family doctor.
But what happens if you come to the end of the year and you have not yet lined up a G.P. who can take you on as a patient?
In that case, you may be able to get your prescriptions renewed by connecting with a doctor at an Ontario walk-in clinic. It's not the ideal situation but at least it could buy you additional time while you continue your search for a family doctor.
Pharmacists also have some ability to continue prescriptions under certain circumstances.
"If there is a medication that you are to take daily for your condition and not taking it would affect your health, then the pharmacist can extend a prescription for the amount that the doctor had originally written for, or six month, whichever is less," explains Ms. Lam. "This still depends on the professional judgment of the pharmacist, who may limit the amount of medications for therapeutic reasons."
She adds that it's important to reach out to the pharmacist well in advance of the time when you might run out of a medication. "If you have established a rapport with the pharmacist -- and the pharmacist knows your history of using a certain medication -- then it's easier to assess your need for the medication."
Hopefully though, you will find a new physician beforehand and won't have to resort to these additional measures.
It's also worth knowing that the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care has a service to help patients find family doctors or nurse practitioners. You can register with Healthcare Connect either on the ministry's website or by phone (1-800-445-1822).
You will need to be a resident of Ontario and have a valid provincial health card. That means you must live in Ontario for three months before you can use the service.
Co-authored by Paul Taylor, Personal Health Navigator at Sunnybrook.
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