Latest Thinking

Your pharmacist: an invaluable partner in healthcare

March 1, 2018

Photo Pascal Bouchard Pascal Bouchard,
Marketing Director,
TELUS Health

I joined the TELUS Health team just a few short months ago. As a newcomer, I wanted to get a better understanding of the role pharmacists play in the ecosystem in order to truly understand our customers. We are very fortunate at TELUS to have pharmacists on staff who are instrumental in driving innovative solutions that address real-world challenges. I took the opportunity to sit down with them to listen to their perspectives on the evolving role of pharmacists in twenty-first century health care.

Pharmacists are becoming our first point of contact when something isn’t quite right. Whether that something happens in the morning, afternoon or dead of night, pharmacists are often just down the road, behind the counter at the back of the brightly lit pharmacy, ready to help us find the right treatment or to listen and counsel us on what the next step should be in solving whatever is ailing us.

“Pharmacists are fairly unique in their accessibility,” explained Doug Ma, a practising pharmacist for more than 10 years. “I can’t think of any other professional from any industry whom you can walk up to practically any time of the day or night and get unbiased advice for your specific situation—without an appointment, and often without cost.”

This statement really made me pause, and when I thought about it I was stunned at how true it is. My pharmacist is a highly educated, expertly trained individual—and yet I don’t have to book an appointment months in advance and worry about associated fees. This is something we really should all think about and recognize.

“Pharmacists are knowledgeable and accessible. You have to enjoy working with the public because sometimes just being there to listen to a patient makes a world of difference,” said Scott Belfer, a pharmacist for 30 years.

Anne Leduc became a pharmacist some 18 years ago and fully agrees with Doug and Scott. “Although we aren’t psychologists, patients often come to us just to talk. It makes them feel better knowing they can get out their thoughts and feelings with someone who understands the broader health care system.”

But pharmacies haven’t always been this way. Back in the day, pharmacists were primarily focused on compounding and dispensing prescription drugs. While that is still a key role, pharmacists are now able to contribute to our health and well-being with a host of other services.

“Of course, pharmacists are still the drug experts,” Scott explained. “In fact, physicians often look to pharmacists for what should or should not be done in specific clinical situations. This is and will always remain at the core of our profession. But, as government regulations change, we are able to take this knowledge and expand into other areas that streamline the process for patients and the health care system as a whole. For example, I had a patient come in to the pharmacy right after being diagnosed with strep throat. He had his prescription in hand for 500‑mg capsules of antibiotics. This poor man could barely swallow his own saliva, much less a 500‑mg horse pill! So, I was able to alter the format of the prescription and instead dispense a liquid treatment of the same intensity—right on the spot. In the past, I would have had to call the physician to discuss the change and get authorization. Now, I can make the adjustment right away, document the alteration, and then send an update to the prescriber explaining what was done and why. Because it was easier for the patient to take his medication, he was able to stick with the prescription, got better in a timely manner, and didn’t end up having to revisit the physician.”

“I had a similar experience,” Doug began. “A new mother anxiously arrived at my pharmacy. Her newborn was suffering from severe acid reflux and wasn’t keeping anything down. Her pediatrician had prescribed a traditional acid reflux treatment because there was no children’s formula available at the time, but the baby wasn’t able to keep it down either. I contacted the pediatrician and recommended a new formula that I had seen dispensed at the Toronto Sick Kids Hospital. While he was skeptical, he did agree to the change and it made all the difference. The mother came back every couple of weeks for the next few months just to show me how well her baby was growing. Collaboration like this with physicians is becoming more the norm than the exception—we are becoming true partners in the patient’s care team.”

As I dug deeper into the pharmacy ecosystem, I learned that the concept of “clinical pharmacies” is quickly gaining traction across Canada. From immunization clinics, to emergency contraceptives, to medication management and more, our pharmacists are now able to provide patients with a range of health and wellness services that were previously only available through physicians. “Every year, it seems like the government is authorizing new services that can be paid for,” explains Doug “and so this opens the door for pharmacists to expand our relationship with patients. We often see patients more frequently—and regularly—than physicians, and so they are becoming more confident in coming to us for wellness and preventative services. Patients with chronic conditions, for example, typically come in to the pharmacy on a monthly basis to renew their prescriptions, which gives us the opportunity to talk with them, ask questions about how the prescriptions are being tolerated and understand any new issues or concerns—and then collaborate with the physician if needed to adjust the treatment to new conditions.”

And technology is playing an active role in this evolving ecosystem as well. “Our focus used to be on getting prescriptions prepared and delivered as quickly as possible,” explains Scott, “and so we incorporated basic software that helped us accelerate the printing and billing of claims. But with our expanded health care role now including the delivery of value-added services, our software needs to be much more robust, providing us with complete patient profiles, national drug database searching, and operational processes to manage the retail side of the business as well. And, because these advanced software solutions optimize our operations, we have more time to spend with our patients.”

“Technology not only helps the pharmacist, but helps out patients as well,” Doug continued. “Web portals give patients the ability to actively manage the prescriptions of all family members from one account, as well as set up appointments at pharmacy clinics—all with just a few clicks of the mouse.”

While technology will continue to play an important role in optimizing processes and driving efficiencies, it will never replace the comfort of the human touch: the reassurance that pharmacists provide with their unbiased, informed counsel. Scott, Doug and Anne all had a love of chemistry that first piqued their interest in becoming pharmacists. But above and beyond that was their commitment to helping people—wanting to make a positive difference in people’s lives. This is the soul of a pharmacist.

As with many things, once you dig below the surface you discover some amazing things that weren’t visible at first. And so it has been with my look into a day in the life of today’s pharmacist. My pharmacist has been right in front of me for so many years, and today, I want to thank him for all the impact he has had on the medical well-being of my family and me.

I love my Pharmacist. What about you? Join the discussion at #ILoveMyPharmacist.