The role of pharmacists in improving access to health care, patient outcomes

Despite significant awareness and discussion around what ails Canada’s health-care system, little has changed, said Rose Dipchand at the 2018 Halifax Benefits Summit on Sept. 20.

Substantial economic challenges remain, the population continues to get older and unhealthier, wait times are still increasing and there’s poor adherence to treatment, noted Pharmasave’s regional manager of professional affairs, Atlantic division, during the conference.

“The traditional health-care system is not working and not sustainable,” said Dipchand. What’s needed, she added, is an improved system, including health plan design and investments that are allocated to areas proven to enhance health outcomes.

Read: The costs, benefits of pharmacy services on private drug plans 

In the current reality, where expanded scope of practice continues to be the new normal, pharmacists can lend a helping hand in achieving both system efficiencies and improved patient outcomes, said Dipchand. She pointed to options around prescriptions as one example of the services that pharmacists can provide. In at least some provinces, these include prescription extensions, adaptations and substitutions, as well as trial prescriptions and emergency prescribing.

The impact of using pharmacists to help address key health issues can be noteworthy, she said. A program recently piloted in New Brunswick demonstrated this impact when it came to urinary tract infections, which is the eighth most common reason for visits to medical clinics and the fifth most common reason for emergency room visits.

Between June 2017 and April 2018, 750 patients were enrolled in the program. They presented with either symptoms of UTI, but without antibacterial treatment, or a prescription from a doctor. Pharmacists prescribed antibacterial therapy, modified antibacterial therapy, provided education only or referred the patient to a physician, as appropriate.

Read: A primer on the role of drug access navigators

According to the findings, published in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal, 88.9 per cent of patients achieved a clinical cure. The results of a followup patient survey showed very high levels of satisfaction for the care received, as well as for levels of trust and accessibility of the pharmacist.

Plan sponsors should look closely at how pharmacists can help their members and their bottom line, said Dipchand. “What are the services out there that can help your employees stay healthy and at work? Look at us as partners.”

Read more coverage from the 2018 Halifax Benefits Summit