The provincial government announced Friday it will cover the costs for pharmacists to provide some prescription renewals and urinary tract infection assessments in order to cut down on long-wait times in walk-in clinics and emergency rooms.
Beginning Oct. 1, the province will pay pharmacists to provide prescription renewals for chronic conditions to New Brunswickers who do not have or cannot access their primary care provider during an emergency.
The new initiative does not cover acute prescriptions for short-term conditions, and pharmacists will most likely not prescribe anything listed as a controlled medication, such as narcotic drugs.
"The idea is anybody who has a prescription for a chronic condition, and they have no renewals remaining or no medication remaining, the government will now pay for a pharmacist consultation for us to provide them a new prescription," said President of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, Andrew Drover. "[It's if] it's for a medical condition that previously been diagnosed and they're being treated for it on a regular basis."
The province will also cover the costs for pharmacists to assess and prescribe medication for uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs) for people between the ages of 16 and 64 who have previously been diagnosed with one.
Drover says that uncomplicated UTIs are perhaps the most common ailment out of the 32 listed on their website that pharmacists are able to assess and prescribe medications to treat.
"The reason it's the most common one is because UTIs come on very suddenly and they are very uncomfortable," said Drover. "So the alternative to going to the pharmacist to have that treated would be to go to an after-hours clinic or an emergency room. That requires the patient then to sit in the emergency room for eight hours suffering while they're waiting to be seen."
These expenses will be covered for New Brunswickers with a valid Medicare card who do not live in a nursing home.
Pharmacy services to become more financially accessible
Pharmacists have been authorized to provide these services since 2014, but patients had to pay a fee as services were not covered by the province.
Drover says fees usually ranged from $20 to $25 for a minor ailment assessment. Some pharmacies also charged for consultations for prescription renewals, usually between $10 to $15.
"By publicly funding these services, we will ease the wait times for New Brunswickers and also alleviate some of the pressure on other providers in our health-care system," said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard in the release. "Allowing our health-care professionals to practise to the full extent of their skills and education, especially within a publicly funded model, makes best use of the human resources within the province, while improving access to health care for all."
All patients will still be responsible for the usual pharmacy dispensing fees and the cost of prescribed medications. Those with prescription drug insurance plans may still submit claims to their insurance provider.
Drover says this initiative, done by the Pharmacy Affairs Working Group and the Department of Health, was a follow-up to the Higgs' government campaign promise made last year to expand pharmacists' roles in offering services.
While it took longer than expected to implement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Drover says this is a step in the right direction, and one he hopes will expand in the future.
"Pharmacists have been doing more for patients in recent years but the COVID-19 pandemic has really shined a light on how vital they are to our health-care system and how they can help ease the burden on family physicians and emergency rooms, while making it easier for patients to access the health care they need," said Drover.