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Are pharmacists really the most accessible health-care providers?

Pharmacists claim to be the most accessible health-care providers, but are we truly accessible for all? Yes, we have extended hours, don’t require appointments for consults or health-related questions and are generally accessible enough that patients come to see us more often than their own physicians. However, for those with mobility issues, accessing the pharmacy comes with its own barriers. 

Approximately 12.5 per cent of Albertans identify as having a disability or mobility impairment. But despite the essential role pharmacists play in the care of patients, the pharmacies themselves often are inaccessible.

As pharmacy students, we visited multiple locations across Alberta to gain a better idea from a patient perspective. We found a host of issues – everything from counselling rooms the size of broom closets to aisles blocked with product displays.

The regulating body for Alberta pharmacists, the Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP), requires pharmacies to have a confidential area for patients to speak with pharmacists. However, there is no guidance to creating these spaces for older adults and those with physical disabilities. In contrast, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has explicit guidelines for accessibility in its clinics.

In fact, across Canada there are no pharmacy governing bodies that have specific guidelines regarding accessibility. Although the Pharmacy Standards of Practice in Canada requires pharmacies to have an area for patient confidentiality, often a counselling room, there are no definitive requirements on accessibility, leading to vast differences between counselling rooms in pharmacies. Many provincial Pharmacy Codes of Ethics state it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to respect a patient’s right to confidentiality and privacy. While this should apply to all patients, people with physical disabilities are less likely to be able to have a confidential conversation because counselling rooms may be small, crowded and difficult to navigate with a cane, walker or wheelchair. 

Pharmacists claim to be the most accessible health-care providers, but are we truly accessible for all? 

To assess perspectives on pharmacy accessibility, we partnered with various community organizations ­ including Voice of Albertans with Disabilities (VAD) completed a literature search and distributed surveys. Much like VAD’s earlier findings, we found there is little literature and research on pharmacy accessibility. 

For our research study, we created and distributed two surveys – one for patients with physical disabilities and one for pharmacy professionals – to identify barriers. In addition to restricted access to private counselling rooms, our results identified other common issues: narrow aisles with product displays; high counter height for those in wheelchairs or using walkers; lack of seating; inaccessible washrooms; and steps instead of ramps.

We had 71 responses from pharmacy customers with physical disabilities and 125 responses from pharmacy professionals. From a list of elements, respondents noted most pharmacies lacked cane hooks, armrests on chairs, space to accommodate wheelchairs and aisles free of obstacles. Most respondents reported accessible entrances and parking, though this is required by the Alberta building code.

Although the vast majority of patients and pharmacy staff agreed pharmacies should be physically accessible, pharmacies are often built without accessibility in mind. The good news is many of these barriers can be removed or improved upon easily; wider aisles and lower counters can go a long way to help ease access.

Next time you visit your local community pharmacy, think about how accessible it really is. Would you have difficulty in the parking lot or getting to the pharmacy counter if you were using crutches, a walker, a wheelchair or even had a stroller? Would this make picking up your medication more challenging? 

If it does, we implore you to contact ACP or your local college of pharmacy to share and voice your concerns. This will help us contribute to fulfilling our title of truly being the most accessible health-care providers. 

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2 Comments
  • Leam T says:

    If physical barriers exist how about calling? Pharmacists do take calls without appointments. I have done curbside injections where it would be difficult for the patient to get into the pharmacy. Pharmacies also deliver. So yes, patients can “access” us more readily than other healthcare professionals.

  • Nancy L says:

    The information in this article brought an issue to my attention that never crossed my mind. It made me think about all the drug stores I’ve been to, too many times to count, and not payed attention to the pharmacy section. Off the top of my head I have no idea if the pharmacy section I’ve seen are accessible to people with disabilities and this article educated me on this matter. Glad to read many Pharmacy professionals responded to the survey.

Authors

Keeley Watt

Contributor

Keeley Watt is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Rachel Tkach

Contributor

Rachel Tkach is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Kyra Thompson

Contributor

Kyra Thompson is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Riley White

Contributor

Riley White is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Kathryn Preiss

Contributor

Kathryn Preiss is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Jordyn Stratychuk

Contributor

Jordyn Stratychuk is a fourth-year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Alberta.

Lisa Guirguis

Contributor

Lisa Guirguis, BSc Pharm, MSc, PhD, is an associate professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Alberta. She teaches and conducts pharmacy practice research that influences health policy and supports pharmacists’ roles in patient-centred care.

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