Peterborough area pharmacies take on new role in treating common ailments

A pharmacist in Keene says a new provincial program aimed at making medical care more convenient by allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication for common ailments — bypassing trips to a physicians’ office — will help residents young and old access the help they need in a community that, like many others across Peterborough County, is feeling the pinch of doctor shortages.

The program, which took effect on Sunday, is part of the provincial government’s effort to make it easier for Ontarians to connect to care closer to home by implementing pharmacist prescribing for some of the most common medical ailments.

Under the new initiative, which bills pharmacies as a “one-stop-shop for over a dozen relatively minor illnesses, pharmacists will be able to issue prescriptions to clients with no cost for the visit.

A total of 13 common medical ailments are covered under the program: hay fever (allergic rhinitis); oral thrush (candidal stomatitis); pink eye (conjunctivitis; bacterial, allergic and viral); dermatitis (atopic, eczema, allergic and contact); menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea); acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); hemorrhoids; cold sores (herpes labialis); impetigo; insect bites and hives; tick bites (post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease); sprains and strains (musculoskeletal) and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

“This program will help community members access care if they have minor ailments and they don’t have a doctor,” Remedy’sRx — Keene Drug Mart pharmacist Honey Lyn Uy told The Examiner.

The Keene pharmacy, located at 1105 Heritage Line in Otonabee-South Monaghan Township, is one of several Peterborough city and county pharmacies participating in the province’s program.

“It means I don’t have to refer (clients) to a virtual clinic or something like that because a lot of them have lost their doctors,” Uy said.

Most of Uy’s clients are seniors and aren’t tech savvy, meaning they often have to seek the help of family members when referred to virtual clinics.

“It breaks my heart sometimes because I cannot do much a lot of the time. I can give them the phone number to the virtual clinic and then go from there. So this program will help them at least with these minor ailments,” continued Uy, adding that the program will be especially helpful during the summer when tourists, susceptible to tick bites, are visiting the community.

“They won’t have to emerge to get an antibiotic to prevent medical issues related to tick bites.”

While Uy welcomes the program and prepares for its implementation, she says there’s a potential for additional strain to be put on the small pharmacy, where she is the primary pharmacist.

“Technically, I am the only pharmacist here and then sometimes I have some relief but most of the time I am the one handling (pharmacist work/filling prescriptions). It will just make me more busy,” she said, likening managing the demand associated with the new program to the high volume of COVID-19 vaccinations doled out at the Keene pharmacy throughout the pandemic.

“With everything going up, up, up right now, it’s just hard to manage but other than that we’re doing it because we need to do it for our community,” Uy said.

The city and townships across Peterborough County have been grappling with the issue of physician shortages in recent years.

There is an active effort underway to attract, recruit and retain physicians to the Peterborough area.

The need for more doctors is no exception in the village of Keene, according to Uy.

A lot of her patients have lost doctors — either because they’ve retired or moved away to large city centres, she said.

Common ailments are health conditions that can be reliably self-diagnosed and managed with self-care and/or minimal treatment. Residents experiencing symptoms of the covered ailments should contact their local pharmacy to confirm whether they provide prescribing services for certain common ailments before visiting.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner