Ontario could save $42M a year if it lets pharmacists prescribe for minor conditions: UW study

·2 min read
'It makes no sense to underutilize one part of the system — meaning pharmacists — and make other parts be burdened with more conditions,' says Wasem Alsabbagh, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. (Submitted by Wasem Alsabbagh. - image credit)
'It makes no sense to underutilize one part of the system — meaning pharmacists — and make other parts be burdened with more conditions,' says Wasem Alsabbagh, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Pharmacy. (Submitted by Wasem Alsabbagh. - image credit)

The Ontario government could save at least $42 million a year by allowing pharmacists to prescribe drugs for certain common, minor conditions as other provinces do, according to a new study out of the University of Waterloo.

Patients would avoid emergency rooms and walk-in clinics, and free up doctors' time for more complex conditions, says researcher Wasem Alsabbagh.

In his research, he cites these three conditions related to the $42-million savings estimate:

  • Contact dermatitis, a skin condition.

  • Upper respiratory tract infections.

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye).

The study — published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice — noted eight provinces already allow pharmacists to prescribe for certain minor ailments.

"It makes no sense to underutilize one part of the system — meaning pharmacists — and make other parts be burdened with more conditions," said Alsabbagh, assistant professor of pharmacy at the University of Waterloo.

"This is basically to utilize what you have."

Alsabbagh said pharmacists could work in collaboration with doctors and refer patients for further diagnosis if needed.

It's 'about time,' says student

Pharmacy student Keean Sarani told CBC News it's "about time" pharmacists take on more responsibilities.

"We have an aging population in Ontario. Physicians, it's known that they're managing a higher prevalence of chronic diseases," said Sarani, who's on rotation at the Lancaster Wellness Pharmacy in Kitchener.

"I think now's the time for the different health-care professionals to work together, to collaborate in order to provide the best care."

Sarani said he learned about minor ailments in pharmacy school and feels prepared to prescribe drugs with the help of some continuing education.

"I hope to be able to enter the profession at a time where it's rapidly changing, where pharmacists are given these additional responsibilities and we're really able to use these skills," he said.

Province considering idea

The province is considering a proposal by the Ontario College of Pharmacists to allow pharmacists to prescribe for conjunctivitis and dermatitis, as well as 10 other minor ailments.

The college defines minor ailments as health conditions that can be reliably self-diagnosed by a patient and managed with self-care methods or with minimal treatment.

Alsabbagh said Ontario could save even more money if it accepted the full proposal.

"[The $42 million] is only a fraction of what the government will be saving."

No decision yet, says Health Ministry

Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care told CBC News in a statement it is aware of and appreciates the research from the University of Waterloo.

The ministry said it has received and is reviewing the college's proposal, but did not say when it expects to make a decision.