P.E.I. pharmacists can now diagnose and treat simple urinary tract infections for free

·3 min read
Pharmacists have actually been permitted by the province to assess and treat UTIs since October 2020, but effective April 1, the province will cover the service, so it is free of charge to Islanders.  (Nicole Williams/CBC - image credit)
Pharmacists have actually been permitted by the province to assess and treat UTIs since October 2020, but effective April 1, the province will cover the service, so it is free of charge to Islanders. (Nicole Williams/CBC - image credit)

Pharmacists on Prince Edward Island will soon be allowed to assess and treat urinary tract infections, or UTIs, for free.

P.E.I. Health and Wellness Minister Ernie Hudson made the announcement in the legislature Thursday afternoon, and received kudos from the Opposition Green Party.

"We're very pleased, after much discussion with the department over many years, to have the ability to assess and treat uncomplicated urinary tract infections," said Erin MacKenzie, the executive director of the P.E.I. Pharmacists Association, in an interview with CBC after the announcement.

Pharmacists have actually been permitted by the province to assess and treat UTIs since October 2020, MacKenzie said, but effective April 1, the province will cover the service, so it is free of charge to Islanders.

"It was great to have our scope expanded in October to allow for the service, but that payment barrier still existed," she said. "That was good news then, but this is even better news."

MacKenzie said Islanders did use the service and found it convenient, but said the cost was about $20 to $25 per assessment, as well as the cost of any prescribed drugs such as antibiotics.

"With an uncomplicated urinary tract infection, it's something that people really want to get treated right away — it's extremely uncomfortable, it's not something people tend to be OK to put off for a day or two or three," she said. Islanders who couldn't get appointments quickly with their family doctors would seek help at walk-in clinics or the hospital emergency departments, which will now free up those portals for critical care cases.

When is a UTI 'uncomplicated'?

What is an "uncomplicated" UTI, and when should you visit your doctor rather than a pharmacist?

Pharmacists have been lobbying to expand their scope of practice to treat UTIs as well as other minor ailments since at least 2010, says Erin MacKenzie of the P.E.I. Pharmacists Association.
Pharmacists have been lobbying to expand their scope of practice to treat UTIs as well as other minor ailments since at least 2010, says Erin MacKenzie of the P.E.I. Pharmacists Association. (CBC)

Most women will know when they have a UTI, characterized by burning, an urge to urinate and frequent urination. If patients have fever, or pain in their flank, MacKenzie said that's a sign they should visit their doctor rather than a pharmacist. Anyone who is pregnant would also be referred on to a doctor, she said.

MacKenzie doesn't know how often pharmacists may be called upon to assess and prescribe for simple UTIs in P.E.I. She said New Brunswick pharmacists have been able to provide the service since 2014, and it has been "very well received" by the public.

Pharmacists have been lobbying to expand their scope of practice to treat UTIs as well as other minor ailments since at least 2010, MacKenzie said, and will continue to talk with the province about it.

"The end goal would be a similar goal to what we see in Alberta, where pharmacists are able to prescribe and assess for numerous or any common conditions that we see," she said.

Being allowed to prescribe birth control is next on their list, MacKenzie said.

"It would be great to be able to open up that service, and I think that would really go a long way in improving accessibility to Islanders in having their contraceptive needs met without having to go and see a family doctor," she said.

Opposition MLA Hannah Bell lauded the government for the decision, calling it a "fantastic addition" to pharmacist's scope of practice. She noted it is mostly women who experience UTIs — she even asked for a show of hands of all the legislators who had experienced one. Bell urged the government to consider further expanding Island pharmacists' scope of practice, including birth control.

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