As Canada's population ages and our reliance on healthcare increases enormously, our knight in shining armour might just be wearing a white lab coat.
Changing provincial rules and regulations are giving pharmacists the ability to be more involved with the average Canadian's healthcare, and that's only good news for a system that's under strain — not to mention a population that doesn't always have a doctor nearby.
"The role of pharmacist has evolved for a number of reasons," says Philip Emberley, director of Pharmacy Innovation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. "Not the least of which is that about 15 per cent of Canadians don't have access to a family physician."
While pharmacists were once seen as just being the people who dispensed prescriptions and instructions on how to take them, now, Emberley says, they're really seen as the drug experts, the people who are most knowledgeable about medications.
In some provinces, pharmacists have prescribing rights, while in others, they can question a doctor's orders and consult them to find something that works better for the patient, especially if the pharmacist knows an interaction with other meds that can be problematic.
According to a 2011 study, 12 per cent of emergency department visits for adults are due to adverse medication effects, and that's really where the power of the pharmacist comes into play. "Physicians’ ability to follow up with patients may not be ideal, so there may be the opportunity to hand this off to pharmacists," says Emberley.
Take a look at some of the things pharmacists can do for you that you may not have known about:
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Pharmacists in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick can administer flu shots during flu season, generally to people over five years of age.
In some provinces, pharmacists can also provide vaccinations for whooping cough and HPV.
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Pharmacists who receive special training across the country can help patients who suffer from arthritis with specialized advice related to pain management, as well as holistic options for treatment.
Interpret Lab Tests
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"Increasingly, pharmacists are in a position to order and interpret lab tests," says Philip Emberley, director of Pharmacy Innovation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. "Medication that people are on is affected by lab tests, and if you know what their lab values are, you can understand how a medication can be tolerated by that patient." Pharmacists cannot currently order lab tests.
Prescribe Medical Devices
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Though pharmacists are still limited in prescribing medications, in some provinces, they are able to prescribe medical devices like diabetes supplies and asthma inhalers. This varies by region, so if you require supplies like this, see if your pharmacy can help.
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For minor acne, pharmacists can prescribe medications that can help. While stronger, antibiotic treatments must come from a doctor, pharmacists can steer you toward the most effective over-the-counter meds that go beyond the regular options.
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"There are a fair number of pharmacists who make home visits, for patients who are shut-ins or not able to pick up their medication," says Emberley. "Rather than having delivery person drop it off, pharmacists go in and talk to them about their medication, any complaints they may be having and try to figure out the best method of care."
Change Or Renew Your Prescription
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While pharmacists generally cannot yet prescribe medication, in many provinces they can substitute one drug for another in its class or change the way it's taken if it benefits the patient. They can also renew prescriptions for continued medication.
In Alberta, some pharmacists collaborate with doctors to fully manage and prescribe a patient's medication in long-term cases.
Birth Control Renewal
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In addition to being able to renew prescriptions for continued care, pharmacists in many provinces are able to renew birth control prescriptions. They're also able to prescribe emergency contraception, or the "morning after" pill.
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"Dermatitis, or a skin problem, is an example of a minor thing that could probably go away on its own, but a pharmacist can help speed the healing along," says Emberley. "If you go to a family physician with a fairly minor ailment, it takes up valuable resources with something that could have been handled a little quicker on a pharmacy level."
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Pharmacists have access to resources that can help new mothers with the breastfeeding problems they encounter, including assistance using breast pumps, information on medication interacting with breast milk and knowledge about the nutritional components of formula.
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Pharmacists have extensive knowledge about the vitamins and herbal supplements available in their stores, so if there's a condition for which that can be useful, take advantage.
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Pharmacists have access to and can prescribe smoking cessation treatments without a doctor. Options like nicotine replacement therapy are a good place to start.