02/13/2012 01:48 EST | Updated 04/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Rx on the way: Alberta pharmacists able to renew prescriptions starting July 1

EDMONTON - Albertans will soon be able to get their prescriptions renewed at a pharmacy without having to go see a doctor first, the province announced Monday.

Health Minister Fred Horne says the changes will kick in July 1 at the 1,013-plus pharmacies provincewide.

"This announcement is the future of pharmacy services in Alberta," Horne said at a news conference at the University of Alberta Hospital.

"It's an important step because it's focused on making primary health care more convenient and more accessible for Albertans."

Horne said the change will free up time for physicians to handle more complex cases.

Pharmacists will renew and modify prescriptions in consultation with physicians. The province will reimburse the pharmacies for the extra work. There is $20 million set aside in the 2012-13 budget year for it.

Patients who still want to see a doctor to get the prescription renewed can do so.

The changes and other program improvements will be paid for through an expected $85 million in savings starting July 1, when the province reduces how much it pays for generic drugs.

The savings will be passed on to consumers. Alberta's current generic drug price is 45 per cent that of the name brands.

Horne said there will also be more money paid to keep remote pharmacies viable, to ensure all Albertans have timely access.

Over the next three years, close to $16 million will be delivered to remote locations under the Remote Pharmacy Access Grant to help those locations deal with the expanded services and the lower drug prices.

This money follows up on a $5 million grant for rural pharmacies and more than $55 million in transition support for all pharmacies since 2010.

The changes are all part of a new professional services compensation framework for pharmacists, said Horne. The framework, which takes full effect on July 1, recognizes pharmacists as full partners in delivering team-based health care.

More pharmacy services will be rolled out in the coming months, said Horne.

"We want to shift the role of pharmacists from a simple dispenser of drugs to a more-integrated health-care professional."