Vaccination and prescription services for some of the most common health problems are now more accessible for Manitobans.
As of Jan. 1, pharmacists with the necessary training are now able to provide patients with some of these services under the guidelines of the new Pharmacy Act.
The news is especially welcome in rural areas, where accessing health care can be more challenging than in urban areas, particularly when a doctor is unavailable.
"One of the benefits for the entire community is that there is a doctor shortage throughout southwestern Manitoba and these changes are something that will free up the time of doctors," said Adrianna Brackenreed, one of three pharmacists at Hasselfield Drugs in Deloraine. "It takes a long time to get in to see a doctor and hopefully we’ll be able to cut that time down for the community."
Since graduating from the University of Manitoba in 2009, Brackenreed worked in Alberta prior to coming to Deloraine. She said the new legislation has already been in effect in many provinces and that Manitoba is playing catch up.
"Manitoba takes its time," she said. "Overall it’s great that they are making the changes. It’s the direction that pharmacy has been going all across Canada."
Manitoba is the sixth province to give pharmacists more responsibilities, following Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
"It helps the patients and it lets us work more to our full potential of what we’re trained to do at pharmacy school," Brackenreed said.
Rob Jaska, a pharmacist at Medical Centre Super Thrifty Pharmacy, said the new legislation could have a major impact on public health.
"It should help increase usage of vaccines, which (are in danger of) being underutilized," Jaska said.
He intends to get trained to administer vaccines and write prescriptions, but believes that will take some time as the government works through how the new tools are administered.
The act, according to Jaska, will provide efficiencies in three areas when it comes to prescriptions.
First, it will give pharmacists more ability to "bridge" patients who are on medications, but can’t see their physician to get a prescription renewed. Second, pharmacists will be able to provide prescriptions for some minor ailments, allowing patients to claim the drugs through provincial programs and recoup some or all of the costs.
And third, pharmacists will be able to adapt prescriptions. While not altering the intent of the drug, they will now be able to suggest such things as a liquid treatment versus a tablet if the patient is a child for example.
"You’re not adjusting the dose, but you’re adjusting the formulation," he said.
Barret Procyshyn, vice-president of the Manitoba Society of Pharmacists, who divides his time between pharmacies in Dauphin and Winnipegosis, said he is excited about the extra access it will give rural populations.
"The toughest year for me as a pharmacist was when we lost the only doctor we had in Winnipegosis. People were coming to me for help, asking how they could get a refill on their prescriptions and I just couldn’t help them," Procyshyn said. "Now, with the new laws, we will be able to help those people."
Winnipegosis, a town of about 650 people almost three hours north of Brandon, didn’t have a doctor for nearly a year after a physician retired in July 2012. Patients had to drive at least an hour to the next-closest doctor in Dauphin or Swan River, even for something as small as a flu shot. Even then, it wasn’t guaranteed they were going to see a doctor because nobody was formally accepting any new patients.
The community has since found a doctor, but they still don’t have an emergency room, which limits the amount of service available to them.
Pharmacists trained at the U of M over the past two years have received the training to administer vaccinations. Current pharmacists who wish to do so will be able to access training through the regulatory body, the Pharmaceutical Association (to be known as the College of Pharmacists in the new year).
Already, about 135 pharmacists have been trained to administer vaccinations in Manitoba.
Training for handing out prescriptions will be available for new graduates and practising pharmacists in the new year.
Brenna Shearer, executive director at the Manitoba Society of Pharmacists, said it’s hard for small communities in Manitoba to recruit doctors and even harder to keep them.
"Making these services accessible at pharmacies leads to better public uptake, which leads to better health," Shearer said.
Sara Watson, a pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic, has taken the immunization training that will allow her to give vaccinations.
"I’m looking forward to expanding my role as a pharmacist," she said. "However, this is only the first step. Pharmacists still aren’t being paid for anything except dispensing so we’re going to have get compensation from the patients."
This means if people want the new services at their local pharmacy, they’re going to have to pay out of pocket.
The Manitoba Society of Pharmacists and the province have been discussing a framework for provincial funding, Shearer said, but they don’t know when it will be complete.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press