Dear family doc: We’re all in this together

Dear doctor,

The last several years have been incredibly hard on all of us.

Never has our health system been under more pressure than it is today, and never has our health-care workforce been so exhausted after years of battling crisis after crisis.

We have watched all of our health partners – doctors, nurses, PSWs and more – work day and night to do the best they could for their patients under incredibly challenging circumstances.

This is why Ontario pharmacists are proud to take on a larger role to help patients get the care they need – all while relieving pressure on our health system.

Since the beginning of this year, pharmacists can now assess patients and treat 13 minor conditions, such as pink eye, eczema and uncomplicated bladder infections. All minor conditions, and all within the current expertise and training of pharmacists.

Previously, pharmacists could only recommend over-the-counter products to address these ailments. When patients came in for help with these conditions, we would have had to send them away, to see their primary care provider if they had one or visit a walk-in clinic or local hospital.

Ontario is following eight other provinces that already are realizing the benefits of minor ailment programs, with many provinces having made this move years ago and many authorizing pharmacists to provide support for more than 13 conditions.

Our role always has included performing these assessments, but now we can offer prescription therapy without the need to send the patient away only to come back hours or days later with the exact treatment that we already had discussed.

This provincial policy change allows us to maximize the benefits of our clinical training and expertise while helping patients better manage their health. The evidence of the benefits to patients from other Canadian jurisdictions demonstrates that this can be implemented safely and effectively with high levels of patient satisfaction.

It makes sense to call on the pharmacists’ unique skill set.

It makes sense to call on the pharmacists’ unique skill set. The evidence from other regions broadly supports that pharmacists prescribe antibiotics very responsibly – after all, we are the experts in finding the right drug, for the right patient, and for the right reasons. The most appropriate way to use medications, including antibiotics, is a foundational element of what pharmacists do every day; the ability to prescribe does not change how we approach this pivotal role.

Pharmacists are highly trained health-care professionals with experience and education in assessing and treating our patients and identifying when something that appears simple may signal something more serious that needs a referral. We are a regulated health profession just like other health-care providers – bound by a code of ethics to provide care only in the best interests of our patients.

As with any significant policy change – particularly in a complex area like health care – it’s not realistic to expect universal support. In fact, we welcome the questions and concerns coming from those who just want to assure Ontarians are getting the best high-quality care possible.

So let me assure you, Ontario’s pharmacists are here for our patients, just like you are.

At my own community pharmacy in the Windsor area, I have already seen firsthand how patients are benefitting.

I’ve heard from many colleagues in other communities who share similar stories, who say patients are welcoming the option to seek treatment from their local pharmacist. The vast majority of Ontario residents – more than nine out of 10 people – live within five kilometres of a pharmacy. The ability to help patients in real time is a huge benefit.

I am watching my colleagues in hospitals and doctors’ offices working under more pressure than ever before. I am hearing more stories of burnout and exhaustion. We are all doing everything we can to support our patients. However, needs continue to grow as we recover from the pandemic and our population grows and ages. Pharmacist-led assessment and treatment of these minor health conditions is one way we can begin to address unmet needs in our communities while freeing up time for other health providers to focus on more complex care cases.

I want our health partners to know we are here for you. We’re proud to help our health system and you – to take some of the pressure off so that you can focus on the patients that need you most.

We know there are more solutions needed. We know there is much more work to be done, but this is the right move for Ontarians.

During these challenging times – just like during the height of the pandemic – we need every health-care provider doing his or her part. Ontario pharmacists are here to help.

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Tim Brady


Tim Brady has been a community pharmacist for more than 20 years in Windsor-Essex. He is also Chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association Board of Directors.

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