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B.C. pharmacists empowered to treat 21 minor ailments

Greater access also granted for birth control options

Pharmacists were given a seat at the B.C. health care services table this week which a Kelowna pharmacist says has been overdue.

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the expansion of pharmacy services available in B.C. to improve health care access for British Columbians who have been affected by the shortage of primary care providers.

Craig Tostenson, pharmacist owner of the Glenmore Pharmasave outlet, said other provinces such as national pharmacist care trendsetter Saskatchewan and more recently Ontario have embraced this health care concept.

“B.C. has lagged a bit behind on this but with the shortfall of family physicians, where they are instead training in specialties or working directly in hospitals, to meet health care demands the health minister felt we needed to get on this now and that’s a good thing,” Tostenson said.

He said pharmacy outlets will have to adapt to creating a process by which they can meet with prospective patients and discuss their medical history and current prescription or over-the-counter medication needs.

He described the minor ailments that B.C. pharmacists can now assess, recommend and prescribe treatments for as “a cautious first step.”

They include acne, allergies, pink eye, dermatitis, menstrual cramps, dyspepsia, fungal infections, acid reflux, hemorrhoids, headache, cold sores, impetigo, musculoskeletal pain, canker sores, shingles, urinary tract infections, nicotine dependence, vaginal candidiasis, oral contraception and oropharyngeal candidiasis.

He said the area of birth control products poses the most complicated issue pharmacists might face because of the range of products and the role a woman’s background medical history might have.

“A month ago the government announced in the budget that birth control would be free to women in B.C. and now they are opening it up further by allowing pharmacists to provide access to birth control measures,” said Tostenson.

“It’s one area where we would want to use extra caution in checking that person’s medical history, but most of the ailments will be allowed to deal with are a little more straightforward.”

He said pharmacists will have to streamline their own process for dealing with an influx of patients, from booking appointments to meeting for 10 to 15 minutes with people to discuss options for a given health issue pharmacists are now permitted to deal with, to ensuring there is a followup mechanism in place.

“We don’t know this early how the uptake will be. We had I think three or four people come to us looking for prescriptions on Thursday but it is still early. The response could be overwhelming in some instances,” he said.

Tostenson noted the province also hopes to unveil within the next month a new appointment system for booking time with a pharmacist similar to how the COVID vaccine alert system functioned.

But while those logistics will get worked out, he said it provides a better solution for people without a family doctor or who wait up to eight hours in a health clinic.

“Hopefully this will be a more progressive thing as pharmacists get to utilize more of our prescription medication knowledge than just seeing what a doctor has prescribed and be able to follow up and make sure people are getting better.”

Christine Antler, a long-time pharmacist and pharmacy region director for Pharmasave, added engaging pharmacists for the treatment of minor ailments is not only about convenience but also a matter of improving patient care and expanding primary care capacity.

Along with addressing surging wait times at health clinics and hospital emergency wards, minor ailments take up an estimated 10 to 20 per cent of physicians’ time, says Antler.

“With additional prescribing powers, pharmacists have more flexibility and treatment options - both over-the-counter and prescription - to better address health care needs,” Antler said.

READ MORE: Some Penticton pharmacies gearing up to start handling minor ailments

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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