Have you heard the great news that pharmacists in Ontario can now help you and your family more than ever before? They can do so because, as of January 1, 2023, the scope of practice for pharmacists has expanded!
Due to the changes to regulations in Ontario’s Pharmacy Act, pharmacists are now authorized to assist patients with an additional thirteen minor ailments. Of course, this is on top of the many other ways pharmacists can help serve your health needs.
So, what can a pharmacist help you with in Ontario? We outline everything you need to know about the recent changes below.
Why Did Ontario Expand Pharmacists’ Scope of Practice Under the Pharmacy Act?
It is not a secret that hospitals and family doctors across Ontario have been overburdened and backlogged for far too long. If you are fortunate to have a family doctor, appointment wait times are likely lengthy and, if you don’t have a regular family physician, you are probably used to sitting in a walk-in clinic for hours – if you can even get in that day! Unfortunately, emergency room wait times are not any better.
Despite all health professionals doing their best to meet never-ending demands, capacity issues have been ongoing for decades. Unfortunately, matters have worsened in recent years as more and more healthcare professionals burn out, fall sick, or opt to hang up their scrubs for good. Simply put, it was time for something to change!
Better utilizing pharmacists' robust training and expertise is a natural decision to free up physicians' capacity for more complicated health concerns. Expanding the scope of practice for pharmacists helps relieve some pressure from doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, and hospitals because many cases do not require a physician's attention – particularly common, uncomplicated, and non-life-threatening ailments.
While Ontario’s new regulations under the Pharmacy Act will not solve all the challenges facing Ontarians, healthcare professionals, and our public health systems, it is a step in the right direction!
Benefits of Expanding Pharmacists’ Scope of Practice
Everyone’s lives are busy. Between raising children, working, running errands, keeping the house presentable, maintaining friendships, caring for an aging loved one, and so much more, balancing all the responsibilities of life is tough. With most households requiring two incomes and employers always asking for more, there are never enough hours in the day.
Most people do not have time to spend hours away from work and household duties to wait for health care for a minor health concern, so allowing pharmacists to utilize more of their robust knowledge to help their patients can make a difference.
While many people need to travel to a different city or town to visit a hospital, doctor's office, or walk-in clinic, almost everywhere has at least one local pharmacy. Finding a great pharmacist near you is typically easier, making it faster and easier to access care!
With Ontario’s new regulations, you may even be able to get a diagnosis and prescription without ever having to step foot in a doctor’s office! Pharmacists are already highly trained experts in prescription medications, drug interactions, dosage requirements, and common ailments, so they are the perfect health professionals to help reduce the number of stops you need to make in your busy day.
What New Health Concerns Can Pharmacists Help With in Ontario?
As of January 1, 2023, pharmacists in Ontario will be able to offer prescriptions for 13 health concerns, including:
These pharmacy services are in addition to:
How Does Accessing Expanded Services From Pharmacists Work?
Expanded services from your local pharmacy are available in person or virtually at participating pharmacies. As most pharmacies are independently owned and operated, each one will have its own practices. Therefore, start by calling the pharmacy near you to see if you can walk in or if you must book an appointment in advance.
Accessing care from pharmacies is free to everyone with an Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). Simply bring your health card with you to your appointment/drop-in visit.
Once your local pharmacist has confirmed that you have OHIP, you will have the opportunity to have a conversation in a private counselling space. Your pharmacist may do a quick visual inspection of the area of concern to confirm a diagnosis and gauge severity.
Next, your pharmacist will provide a diagnosis or refer you to another health professional if required. In most cases of uncomplicated ailments, your pharmacist will recommend an over-the-counter remedy or, if it falls within their new scope of practice, prescribe a medication. If you are prescribed a drug, you do not need to fill your prescription at the same pharmacy that prescribed it.
Your pharmacist will then update your family doctor to ensure they are aware of your health concerns and the treatment the pharmacist recommended or prescribed.
Can Pharmacists in Ontario See Your Medical Records?
Yes! Pharmacists in Ontario do have access to your electronic medical records. Having access to information about your health history is a critical part of helping doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other medical professionals provide appropriate medical care and advice to patients.
Through your electronic medical records, your local pharmacist can access any past lab results, diagnostic imaging reports, hospital visit reports, and a list of any medications dispensed to you through the Ontario public drug plan. However, pharmacists cannot see your doctor's notes in your physical file at their office or view a list of any medications that you accessed through private insurance or with cash.
When Will a Pharmacist Recommend That I See My Family Doctor Instead?
Your local pharmacists always strive to provide prompt and exceptional service to all patients, which is why most pharmacies are excited and eager to offer expanded services. However, pharmacists must continue to ensure that they work within their scope of practice and act in each patient's best interest. For these reasons, your pharmacist may refer you to a different medical professional in some cases.
If you are experiencing an urgent or life-threatening health emergency, seek medical treatment from the hospital. For complicated health concerns, book an appointment with your family doctor. For uncomplicated or common ailments, visit your pharmacist.
Pharmacies will do their best to offer you relief and information as quickly as possible. However, if they determine that blood work, lab testing, or urinalysis may be required to confirm an assessment, or if your health concern is beyond their scope of practice, you will be referred to your doctor or another medical professional as per regulations in the Pharmacy Act.
Family doctors' waiting lists are getting longer, hospitals are overburdened, walk-in clinics are packed, and healthcare professionals are tired. Individuals and families are also busier than ever and do not have the time to wait hours in a waiting room or weeks for an appointment. Something had to change, and pharmacists are happy to be able to step up to help!
As of January 1, 2023, pharmacists can now diagnose and prescribe medications for 13 common, uncomplicated, and non-life-threatening ailments like acid reflux, cold sores, dermatitis, oral thrush, pink eye, tick and insect bites, urinary tract infections, and more!
These expanded pharmacy services are in addition to assisting you with general health concerns, INR control checks, compression stockings, travel health consultations, respiratory counselling, prescription compounding, and weight loss management.
These changes to regulations under Ontario's Pharmacy Act allow pharmacists to utilize more of their expertise while reducing the pressure on other areas of health care and making accessing care more convenient than ever for individuals and families in the province, which is great news for everyone!
Connect With Cook’s Pharmacy!
Do you have a common or uncomplicated health concern that you do not feel warrants a trip to the doctor or hospital? Then consider contacting Cook’s Pharmacy!
In addition to diagnosing and prescribing medications for conditions within our new scope of practice, we can also answer questions about your medications and offer compounding solutions. We are also here to help offer support for quitting smoking, managing diabetes, losing weight, or breathing challenges. Don't forget to ask us about travel consultations and vaccinations too!
For your convenience, Cook's Pharmacy is pleased to offer pharmacy services in several locations, including Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Wellesley, and New Hamburg. Our skilled team of pharmacists is ready to support the diverse health needs of you and your family.