Here’s what you need to know about pharmacists’ new prescribing powers in Ontario

Expanding pharmacists' abilities can fix some problems with the health-care system — but new problems may emerge

Different types of medicines are placed on shelves.
A corner of Winnie Li's pharmacy in Ontario. (Tianye Gu/Toronto Observer) 

When you walk downstairs from IKEA on Yonge Street, you will find the Radiant Pharmacy run by Winnie Li. Soon, the person behind the counter will be able to give you prescription medication even if you have not seen a doctor.

Ontario is rolling out a new policy later this year that allows pharmacists to treat and prescribe medication for 13 of the most common ailments, including rashes, pink eye, insect bites and urinary tract infections.

Some health-care experts are optimistic that this expansion will help patients access health-care services. However, some also fear the policy will create new issues.

“Many people in Toronto do not have a family physician, but they need urgent care for these types of minor ailments,” Li said in an interview.

“Therefore, I believe that for pharmacists being able to help these patients who are stranded in these kinds of situations, it is definitely better (for) the community as a whole.”

Watch: How will new powers for pharmacists affect health care?

Health-care workers’ shortage may play a role

Li believes that under the pressure of COVID-19 in the past few years, there has been a shortage of primary care staff on the community side. There are only so many pharmacists people can access, which could mean the new policy will have a limited impact.

According to the National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities, the number of registered pharmacists in Ontario will be 17,861 by 2023. But there are more than 15 million people in Ontario, meaning the number of pharmacists in Ontario is 0.1 per cent of the total population of Ontario.

Ontario pharmacists and Ontario residents number comparison pie chart.

The number of family doctors is also limited. According to a survey by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, 2.2 million Ontarians currently do not have a family doctor. At this rate, more than three million Ontarians will be without a family doctor by 2025.

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for pharmacists and doctors trained elsewhere to work here.

“It is very difficult for people who are trained in other jurisdictions to get registered,” said Raisa Deber, a professor at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on health policy in Canada.

Deber said via Zoom that every province in Canada has regulations for health-care workers. Take, for example, one of her students from Germany. This student is a registered nurse in Germany but cannot perform nursing services in Canada – unless he returns to nursing school in Canada.

Expanding pharmacists’ powers could have positive effect

Zubin Austin, a professor specializing in health services research at the University of Toronto, believes that the government’s liberalization of pharmacists’ scope of practice means that “there will be more qualified professionals to do tasks that fit with their education.”

But some critics have suggested the move may ultimately hurt the health-care system if pharmacists over-prescribe some medications.

New powers come with added pressure

Li, the pharmacist in downtown Toronto, puts much pressure on licenced pharmacists on the front line. But at the same time, she agrees with the new policy.

“I therefore think that for my pharmacy and for me, the new policy is favourable and constructive,” she said.

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Posted: Apr 17 2023 8:39 pm
Filed under: Government Mental Health News