What you need to know about getting new prescriptions, refills

As Nova Scotians navigate life under a state of emergency, there are questions around how people can get the medication they need while limiting person-to-person contact.

Doctors and pharmacists in the province have new options for virtual care, using telephone and video conferencing.

The provincial government also announced that pharmacists can now renew prescriptions for most medications and the province will cover the assessment fee.

Renewing a prescription

For most medications, if a prescription runs out, the pharmacist can now renew it at no cost to the patient.

Assessments that previously had to be done in person can now be done over the phone.

Robin Ogilvie, pharmacy manager of Guardian Rockingham Pharmacy in Halifax, said pharmacists can renew for up to a six-month supply of most medications.

But those medications will only be given out in 30-day doses. Pharmacies in Nova Scotia are limiting patients to a 30-day supply of medication to reduce the risk of drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting a new prescription

Even without a prescription, pharmacists still may be able to help.

Pharmacists in Nova Scotia can do independent assessments for urinary-tract infections, contraception and shingles

Ogilvie said they can do assessments for minor ailments and prescribe for things like cold sores, muscle and back pain. The fee for that is $25.

If a pharmacist can't write a prescription, many doctors offices and walk-in clinics in the province are able to provide care over the phone or on video calls, if a visual assessment is needed.

"Call the offices and find out first, don't show up and ask," Ogilvie said.

A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority said primary care providers who offer appointments for those without their own primary care provider are able to provide virtual care.

If people do not have a primary care provider, they are asked to add their name to the Need a Family Practice Registry.

Robert Guertin/CBC

Shoppers Drug Mart is now offering a free virtual-care service, in partnership with the platform Maple, allowing patients to consult a doctor from home. The service has now been extended to March 31.

Sarah Draper, senior director of health-care strategy and complex care, said doctors can diagnose and prescribe for mild ailments, such as rashes and ear infections through the platform.

"We're providing a way for you to get access to a family physician virtually and get those easier, smaller ailments dealt with from the comfort of your own home without burdening the healthcare system," she said.

So far, Draper said over 6,000 people have used the service across Canada. The wait times average about 20 minutes, but can be higher.

What about narcotics?

Last week, Health Canada issued exemptions for prescriptions of controlled substances under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

These changes allow pharmacists to extend, renew or transfer prescriptions that have previously been initiated by a doctor, as well as allowing doctors to issue verbal orders over the phone. Pharmacy employees also can now deliver controlled substances to patient's homes.

Ogilvie said while they can renew prescriptions for those on chronic pain medication, it is not available for people with acute pain prescriptions.

He said each situation is unique and people should call their pharmacy directly.

Pharmacists and doctors through Shoppers Drug Mart's virtual-care service can not write new prescriptions for narcotics.

Getting a prescription to the pharmacy

Ogilvie said for patients given a physical prescription, many pharmacies have an app, online or telephone service that allows you to send it to the pharmacy without going to the store.

"You still do need to have the original prescription brought in to the pharmacy when you go to pick it up, but it saves you having to make multiple trips and unnecessary exposures," he said.

He said the best case scenario is for the physician to fax the prescription directly to the pharmacy.

Draper said for those using the Shoppers Drug Mart virtual-care system, the doctor will directly fax the prescription to the pharmacy of your choice, adding that it does not have to be a Shoppers Drug Mart.

Picking up what you need

Ogilvie said every pharmacy is different, but many places are now offering delivery or drive-up service, which allows people to call the pharmacy once they're in the parking lot. An employee brings out the prescription and places it in the trunk or back seat.

Shoppers Drug Mart is offering free home delivery. Costco Pharmacy, Lawtons and Guardian also offer home delivery.

But Ogilvie is asking people who are on self-isolation to ask someone else to get their prescriptions.

"If you are asked to self-isolate, please do actually self-isolate. That doesn't mean take a few trips out, or just one trip out. If you're supposed to not be out in public then please respect that," he said.

"For everybody else, if you can get what you need by calling the pharmacy as opposed to coming in, then please call."

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