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Hub Health: Pharmacists have many roles in the community

For most Canadians, whenever a health issue arises, the first point of contact with the health system is their doctor's office or the hospital emergency room.

For some health problems, that's needed and appropriate. However, for many health conditions, there is a more convenient, accessible health provider who can deliver the same quality care - that being your community pharmacist. Pharmacists are the most accessible health provider in the country. With more than 24,000 pharmacists working in more than 9,500 pharmacies across Canada, your community pharmacist can usually be seen without an appointment, usually within a few minutes, and can provide a greater range of health services and care than most people are aware.

Many people still tend to see pharmacists as dispensers of medications prescribed by a physician and counsellors on the proper use of that medication. Although they continue to perform a dispensing and counselling function, during the past several years, pharmacists across Canada have been empowered to perform a range of additional services. A quick list of some of the services that pharmacists can now provide includes:

• Pharmacists can renew and extend prescriptions, without the need for revisiting a doctor. They can also provide emergency prescription refills.

• Deliver the annual flu shot, most often without an appointment or lengthy waits.

• In some provinces, pharmacists can deliver smoking cessation programs.

• If you are taking multiple medications, pharmacists can conduct a medication review, whereby they analyze the mix of medications you are taking to ensure there are no unwanted side effects or other unintended consequences.

• In some provinces, pharmacists can treat minor ailments such as diaper rashes, insect bites, headaches, or muscle strains and sprains.

• Some pharmacists have advanced training in caring for patients with diabetes.

In addition to the being accessible and convenient, pharmacists are well trained in the services they provide. As regulated professionals, pharmacists must undergo continuous education in order to keep abreast of current developments in medication management. This high level of training and continuous education is reflected in the fact that public opinion polls tell us that pharmacists are among the most trusted professionals in Canada.

Approaching your pharmacist as your first line of care for a range of medication needs and chronic conditions has obvious advantages to you as the patient - greater accessibility, less time to wait, and for most Canadians a pharmacy is located within their community. But the advantage of pharmacists being able to offer a wide range of services goes beyond benefits to the patient. By reducing the pressure on hospitals, emergency rooms, and doctor's offices, pharmacists are helping to create a more sustainable health-care system. With more patients visiting their pharmacies, capacity is freed up in other health institutions, which also cuts costs to the overall health-care system.

Sandeep Sodhi is the chairperson of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

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