NOTL pharmacists gear up to prescribe medication for common ailments

Pink eye? Cold sores? Hay fever? Now you can skip the clinic and head directly to the pharmacy.

As of Jan. 1, Ontario pharmacists can prescribe medication for 13 different common ailments.

The service is free for anyone with an Ontario health card. But Niagara pharmacists caution, patients need to be … patient.

“Overall, it’s something that will benefit patients in our community and we’re excited to be a part of that,” said Sean Simpson of Simpson’s Pharmacy in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

A Shoppers Drug Mart official described the news as “a positive step for patients in Niagara.”

Jamie Ikola, spokesperson for Shoppers in the Niagara Region, expects there’s going to be a demand for it, since “these are things that we see patients for every day in the aisle.”

This change is a huge benefit to patients, especially in Niagara-on-the-Lake where there’s no access to walk-in services, said Simpson.

“Hopefully this will give our doctors in town an opportunity to focus on some of the things that are more urgent and more pressing and maybe take some of the load off them,” he said.

It has been in the works for a while and pharmacists have been preparing for it, said Ikola, who is also a pharmacist.

Julie Taylor of Stone Road Pharmacy in Virgil said while there are courses available for pharmacists to “brush up on our skills,” not knowing full details of the program until recently makes it harder for pharmacists to prepare.

And though Simpson is excited, he urges the community to have some patience since it’s a whole new process.

He also feels there hasn’t been much time to prepare.

“It’s just a matter of trying to figure out how we can operationalize this. There wasn’t a ton of notice of how this was going to roll out,” he said.

While wait times might not be as long as at a walk-in clinic, people shouldn’t expect to be in and out within minutes with a new prescription.

“It’s going to take much more time than that. There’s a process that has to be followed and we just want people to understand that,” Simpson said.

Early on, he said they’ll be assessing the demand and “probably be asking people to leave us with their information.”

They will then call the patients to set up an appointment or have them come in later.

Simpson anticipates that at some point patients will be required to schedule an appointment to be seen by a pharmacists, either virtually or in-person.

At Shoppers, patients will need to book appointments. There may be some walk-ins depending on the availability of the pharmacist, but Ikola recommends people book online whenever possible.

Stone Road Pharmacy will also require appointments.

“I feel like we are fully capable of doing this and we’re looking forward to being able to help people a little bit more than how we have already,” said Taylor.

Many pharmacists will need to be trained and familiarized with the process in addition to their regular duties, too.

Simpson noted the last three years have been stressful for his team and while they’re eager to provide this service to the community, this is an additional stressor.

As well, there have been a lot of questions since the government announced the program, said Taylor.

It’ll be a learning curve, just like it was when as of Dec. 12 pharmacists were permitted to administer Paxlovid, an oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.

“When we start delivering a new service, it may take us some time to make sure that we’re dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s that are expected,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Health, pharmacists will have the ability to prescribe prescriptions for: Hay fever, oral thrush, pink eye, dermatitis, menstrual cramps, acid reflux, hemorrhoids, cold sores, impetigo, insect bites and hives, tick bites, sprains and strains and urinary tract infections.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report