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The changing role of the neighbourhood pharmacy

The role of the pharmacist in Alberta has expanded, from prescribing medications to administering flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines.
Pharmasave Jason Chan Remillard with Customer
What's the role of the pharmacist? It's changed from a decade ago. Photo: Gail BergmanPR

Do you go the local pharmacy to fill a prescription from the family doctor, or get advice on how/when to take a medication? Perhaps it's for the annual flu shot or now, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine? The role of the pharmacy is morphing, and Alberta pharmacists are navigating the changes along with the public.

Pharmacist Jason Chan Remillard of Calgary’s Northmount Pharmasave has seen a dramatic increase in workload. 

 “We have an increasing role, especially as pharmacies get involved in AHS initiatives, like asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. Our location is also giving the COVID-19 vaccine," said Remillard, who like all Alberta pharmacists, must gain authorization to administer medications and vaccines by injection through the Alberta College of Pharmacy.

Last year, Remillard’s pharmacy gave 500 flu shots, compared to over 2,000 this year. He said because of COVID-19, people are being more proactive with their health, and don't want to risk getting the flu during a pandemic.

“All the initiatives are an extra workload for us, which means extra staff-- which is good," he said. "We’re employing more people so it’s helping the economy as well.”

A recent national survey of 10,000 people (conducted by Pharmasave) shows 26 per cent admit to taking medication differently than prescribed or stopping it without consulting their doctor or pharmacist. While nearly 40 per cent said they forgot to take medication occasionally, over 20 per cent forgot to take it altogether. Others reported that medication made them feel sick, was too expensive or that they felt better and didn't need to continue.

On the positive side, 14 per cent of respondents said they take prescribed medications more diligently during the pandemic, with 62 per cent of those with pre-existing conditions saying they want to be in top health since they are at greater risk of negative outcomes if they contract COVID-19. 

Getting to know customers is key to offering optimal care, said Remillard, who reminds patients they should never stop taking medications without first consulting their doctor or pharmacist. 

“If you stop taking your blood pressure medication, for example, you may not feel it's elevated, but the long-term consequences could be damage to the kidneys or blood vessels of the eyes," he said. "Diabetics could see elevated blood sugar levels, which then creates other consequences. Especially for those with chronic conditions, if there are side effects or a reason you're not taking a medication, we can help find alternatives."

A faithful customer of Medi-Drugs Clareview for about five years, Edmonton senior John Headspeath said he visits once a month to get pills or eye drops. Headspeath said he was well-prepared to fight a battle with lung cancer a few years ago, in part because of a positive relationship with his doctor and pharmacist.

"It's vital to build a trusting connection with the pharmacist. They help me with everything and have improved my quality of life," Headspeath said. "My Medi-Drugs is like a family pharmacy; I wouldn't go anywhere else."

Remillard reminds that if people are finding it difficult to follow their health plan, their pharmacist will be there to support them, offering helpful ways to dispense pills--blister packing or pill-counting devices--and providing curbside pickup and home delivery options.

“For any barrier we can identify, we can work with customers to rectify that situation," Remillard said.


Statistics from the Alberta Pharmacists' Association:

Pharmacies participating in the COVID-19 vaccine program: approx. 1,300

Flu shots administered by Alberta pharmacies 2020/21: over one million, or 68 per cent of all flu shots in the province

Flu shots administered in 2019/20: 879,000 

Year Alberta pharmacists first able to prescribe medications: 2007