Pharmacists welcome regulatory change

Director of the Dalhousie College of Pharmacy says the decision to allow pharmacists to write certain prescriptions is long overdue.

Nova Scotians can now get even more health care from their pharmacists including refills and adjustments. By fall, they may even be able to acquire prescription medication for minor ailments without ever seeing their doctors. Photo: Allison McCabe

Rita Caldwell, director and associate professor at the Dalhousie College of Pharmacy, is welcoming a change that will grant students graduating from the program more prescribing powers than the previous generation of pharmacists had. The Nova Scotia Department of Health has changed pharmacy regulations to allow pharmacists to write, extend, refill and adjust certain prescriptions.

"It has been in Alberta and recently in New Brunswick," she said. "So it is something that we've been waiting for to come through in Nova Scotia as well."

The regulations, which the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists had been developing for years, were finally approved by the provincial government on Jan. 26.

The changes will mean pharmacists can take a more active role in patient care. Beginning immediately, they will be able to alter the form of a prescription (for example, from liquid to pill form), refill and extend prescriptions if patients cannot see their doctors, and prescribe over-the-counter medications to help those whose insurance covers only prescribed medications.

Further changes are to come which will allow pharmacists to treat minor medical conditions with drugs normally prescribed by doctors and nurse practitioners. However, before these last changes can take effect, the NSCP must develop standards of practice to be applied to the regulations.

Caldwell says the regulatory change doesn't require the school to update its curriculum. In 2009, 92 students graduated from the pharmacy program at Dalhousie. Caldwell believes students are well prepared to enter a field that has many more responsibilities than they may have bargained on when they enrolled in the school.

"At the moment our students should be perfectly competent to do what the legislation is providing for the pharmacists."

Brittany Smith, a first-year pharmacy student at Dalhousie, agrees that new pharmacists coming out of school are well prepared to administer the changes.

"Obviously the increased responsibility is a bit daunting," she said. "But ultimately that's what we've been taught to do."

The NSCP and the College of Physicians and Surgeons will be working throughout the summer to define the regulations. Susan Wedlake, registrar of the NSCP, says the drugs pharmacists will be authorized to prescribe will be strictly for "minor ailments" which pharmacists are already accustomed to assessing and will not include narcotics or or other controlled drugs.

"There will be no new diseases that they can treat," Wedlake explained. "They're going to be able to prescribe for a condition they can already asses. So patients will get the best therapy from pharmacists."

Smith is excited about the prospect of being able to use the training she is receiving to its maximum potential.

"I know that when I graduate I'll be able to apply the knowledge I have as a drug expert, and I know that my four years of intense studies will be worth every minute."

Smith says pharmacists have been anxiously anticipating the development for years. In her time working with pharmacists, she maintained her commitment to the field with the faith that pharmacists would have greater power to help their customers in the future.

"Seeing that this change in legislation was not only possible, but in the works, made me confident that by the time I graduate some of those frustrations could be alleviated."

As of January 2009, there are 1,105 licenced pharmacists in Nova Scotia. Smith expects the change will help the system of health-care delivery run more smoothly by shifting more of the work away from doctors and into the able hands of pharmacists. But she and Caldwell both stress that the real beneficiaries will be those on the other side of the counter.

"Pharmacists will be able to use their skills more appropriately," Caldwell said. "The big winner here is the patient -- they will be able to provide better patient care."


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