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Nova Scotians using pharmacies more during pandemic

pharmacy - 123RF Stock Photo
pharmacy - 123RF Stock Photo - 123RF Stock Photo

SYDNEY — More people than ever are getting their health care from the local pharmacy, a fact that doesn’t surprise the head of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

“I think there’s a lot of reasons, excluding the pandemic, which has obviously changed a lot of things for a lot of people,” said Allison Bodnar, chief executive officer of the organization which represents pharmacies across Nova Scotia.

“People need to access health care. We have over 55,000 people in this province who can’t access a doctor at all. And we have thousands and thousands of others who can’t access care as quickly as they may want to.”

Allison Bodnar is the CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Allison Bodnar is the CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

Nova Scotian pharmacists wrote more than 165,000 prescription renewals for patients in 2020, the first year they were able to do so free of charge. They also did close to 20,000 assessments for shingles, urinary tract infections and birth control as well as administer more than 200,000 flu shots. Now they’re getting ready to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Pharmacists have able to deliver those services since 2011 but they would have been paid for by the patient or their insurance provider. That changed in 2020 when the pandemic hit.

“These are new services, newly funded services, that came into effect,” said Bodnar. “Renewals weren’t supposed to launch until April 1, 2020, but because COVID hit we started a few weeks early so we started in the middle of March last year with renewals. That has gone from zero paid renewals to 165,000 paid renewals. Prior to that patients would pay for these services or some insurance plans would have covered these services but as of last winter, these services are now funded as part of our health-care system.

“Pharmacies adapted quickly to the pandemic, becoming an essential, and sometimes the only, walk-in health-care option in their communities.”

CONVENIENT SERVICE

Now that the services are paid for, people are more willing to use pharmacies because of the convenience, especially during a time when many doctors’ offices were closed while the province’s 312 pharmacies remained open, often seven days a week and in the evening.

“Once they become publicly funded then people choose the access point to the system that is most convenient for them. And pharmacies are convenient. We’re in every community in the province, we’re open seven days a week extended hours so we are a good choice for many people. You can’t get into doctors' (offices) in the evenings — we know that convenience is a big factor for patient’s health.”

By looking after these services, fewer people need to go to the emergency rooms to renew prescriptions which Bodnar believes is better for everyone.

“We don’t want people going to emergency for a prescription renewal — that is not what emergency departments are for. In some ways, it is making our system more efficient and more effective in having people go to places where those services are handled.”

Provincial pharmacists administered more than 200,000 flu shots in 2020, which was 35,000 more than in 2019. And they could have delivered more, if the supplies had been available. As a result, because of the shots and all the COVID-19 precautions, there’s next to no flu in Nova Scotia this year.

The pharmacy association's next big push will involve the COVID-19 vaccines, which will be administered by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.

Bodnar said it wasn’t known when those clinics would open but that prototype clinics would begin over the next few weeks to examine the best way to offer the vaccination services.

“Pharmacies adapted quickly to the pandemic, becoming an essential, and sometimes the only, walk-in health-care option in their communities.

“For the most part you can walk into a pharmacy and get most of the help you need,” said Bodnar. “There are other services that take longer that they’re booking appointments for. It’s best to get to know your pharmacy and how they’re set up and the way they want to book services.”

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