The costs, benefits of pharmacy services on private drug plans

Perceptions of pharmacists are behind the times. While plan members, and even plan sponsors, may see the role of the pharmacist as primarily counting pills, there’s much more that goes into filling a prescription, delegates heard at the 2018 Halifax Benefits Summit in September.

This includes keeping up to date with medications, talking with patients and thinking about everything from possible drug interactions to adherence, said Priscilla Po, director of drug plan management and employer health solutions at Shoppers Drug Mart Corp., during the conference.

Plan sponsors should be looking to the pharmacist and their expertise to help enhance both access and the bottom line, added Po. “The changing environment presses the need for better care. Long wait times are the focus.”

Read: A look at pharmacists’ role in supporting drug adherence

Today, 16 per cent of Canadians don’t have a regular family doctor, said Po, and at the same time, drug use is continuing to escalate with age. Canadians aged 25 to 44 take one or more prescription medications. For those aged 45 to 64, this figure jumps to 55 per cent and 11 per cent take five or more medications.

To underscore the benefits that pharmacists can bring to the health-care system and to plan members, Po used a fictional scenario. In the case of an individual travelling to Peru and looking for advice on potential travel precautions, for example, visiting a travel health clinic that’s staffed with physicians will cost anywhere from $30 to more than $100, and may require taking time away from work for an appointment. Visiting a pharmacy, however, can be done at the individual’s convenience and will put them out of pocket only $30 to $50. Assessing the traveller’s health needs, recommending and providing vaccinations or preventative drugs, if needed, and offering health advice are among the services the pharmacist can provide.

Read: Pharmacists’ role evolving to help plans manage costs

Pharmacists’ services are also expanding to include more point-of-care testing, according to Po. An economic evaluation published recently in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal examined the use of treating severe sore throat and strep throat when this service was offered in pharmacies in five provinces. The researchers found approximate total cost savings ranged from $1.3 million to $2.6 million a year. As well, the number of antibiotic prescriptions required were cut in half.

Absenteeism also improved, said Po, noting timely treatment helped employees take fewer doctor visits and fewer days off work. “This shows how the pharmacist can be a part of the care process. . . . The benefits totally outweigh the cost,” she said.

Read more coverage from the 2018 Halifax Benefits Summit