“Pharmacists are underutilized,” says prof
Pharmacists could help taxed emergency rooms, study finds
WATERLOO — Giving pharmacists added authority to treat minor ailments could ease overcrowding in Ontario’s emergency departments, according to a new University of Waterloo study.
Researchers found that almost one-third of non-urgent emergency visits in Ontario could potentially be managed by pharmacists with an expanded scope of practice that is allowed in other parts of Canada.
“Pharmacists are able and eager to help,” said Prof. Wasem Alsabbagh of UW’s School of Pharmacy. “One out of three unnecessary visits, we can care for them in pharmacy.”
Emergency department wait times are a complex issue, and Alsabbagh cautioned that allowing pharmacists to do more wouldn’t necessarily reduce wait times. But they could provide more timely care for patients who shouldn’t be going to the emergency department.
Pharmacists could be stationed in hospitals or simply offer the care in pharmacies. Pharmacy technicians can now do more, freeing up a pharmacist’s time for clinical care once they have the required training.
“Pharmacists are underutilized,” Alsabbagh said. “At the same time, we have a strain on the health-care resources.”
Pharmacists have been expanding the services they provide in Canada over the past decade, although there is a wide range of what’s allowed.
“It varies from province to province,” Alsabbagh said.
For instance in Alberta, pharmacists have been able to prescribe for minor ailments, renew prescriptions and administer injections since 2017.
Ontario, Alsabbagh said, has been “very cautious and slow” and the scope of allowed practice remains very limited. Pharmacists here were allowed to renew prescriptions and give flu shots in 2012, and more vaccines were added in 2016.
The researchers analyzed data from 2010 to 2017, looking at all Ontario hospital emergency cases based on standard scales that measure severity. Pharmacists with an expanded scope could have potentially handled nearly 1.5 million cases.
Common emergency cases that could be managed by a pharmacist include skin conditions, a cough or bladder infection.
Alsabbagh said increasing public awareness will play a key role, but the growing popularity of flu shots at pharmacies points to increasing comfort with turning to pharmacists for care because it’s convenient.
Results from the research — undertaken with UW assistant professor Sherilyn Houle and recently published in the journal Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy — were passed along to the Ontario Pharmacists Association.
Expanding what pharmacists are able to do could help patients while relieving stress on health care system.
“Pharmacists have shown they’re more than eager to do this care.”