In Ontario, numerous major advancements have occurred in pharmacy in recent years, one of the most notable is the ability for pharmacists to assess and prescribe for minor ailments. This has been a major advocacy focus for OPA, and January 1st, 2023, marked the first implementation of minor ailments in Ontario pharmacies which included 13 minor ailments that pharmacists can assess and prescribe for. The success of the program has been remarkable, as of October 2023 over 400,000 Ontarians have benefitted from minor ailments assessments and 87% of Ontario pharmacies are participating in the minor ailments program. Pharmacists have long been trusted, trained, and knowledgeable to be able to provide this type of patient care, and the government and key stakeholders are beginning to take notice. On October 1st, 2023, six additional minor ailments were added bringing the total to 19 minor ailments that pharmacists can prescribe for. Delivering minor ailment care in pharmacies not only expands patients’ options for care ,but  it also prevents a significant number of patient visits to walk-in clinicsand emergency departments thus adding more capacity to the healthcare system for more complex health complications. Furthermore,  minor ailments has a major economic impact, saving the healthcare system money and emergency room congestion. 

To present a frontline perspective, we chatted with pharmacist, owner of Kristen’s Pharmacy and OPA Board member, Kristen Watt. A dedicated pharmacist, leader and educator, Kristen has been in the practice of pharmacy for 23 years. She spoke about the excitement that minor ailments prescribing and accessing in pharmacies caused in her community of Southampton, Ontario. 

“Patients in our community are very excited to have access to pharmacists who can prescribe for minor ailments, what they come to realize is that we’ve done a lot of this already without actually being able to write those prescriptions.” She continues, “we’ve been making recommendations in the pharmacy isles, using over-the-counter products or making recommendations to their family physicians. Now that we can actually write the prescriptions for the patients, it’s less barriers for them to access their care.” 

Extensive research and assessments of Ontario’s healthcare system have revealed that authorizing pharmacists to prescribe medications for minor ailments carries substantial implications for the province’s economy, patient well-being, and the relief of healthcare sector burdens. A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo (UW), underscored that this practice could yield annual savings of $42 million for Ontario. To gauge the economic impact, the study employed mathematical modeling, focusing on three prevalent minor ailment conditions: upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), contact dermatitis (CD), and conjunctivitis. Furthermore, the research highlighted that pharmacy professionals stand out as among the most accessible healthcare providers. 

Kristen highlights, that to provide the best care possible, pharmacists must utilize every tool at their disposal. This includes leveraging clinical viewers, managing time efficiently and ensuring that patients receive the attention they deserve. While it might not always be possible to address patient concerns on the spot, Kristen emphasizes if a pharmacy is able to do so, booking appointments to deliver personalized one-on-one care. This approach enhances patient safety and ensures that every individual receives the best care available. Kristen also touched on the critical role of pharmacy technicians, “pharmacy technicians are often the first touch-point with our patients. Patients coming in and inquiring to speak to the pharmacist the pharmacy technician will often ask them why and what in order to better triage their care,” she continues. “If it’s for minor ailments the pharmacy technicians will text or email an intake link to our patients to allow them to do the proper intake, fill out the required form so that the pharmacist can utilize their time appropriately in assessing and prescribing for the patients.” 

The pharmacists’ ability to assess and prescribe for minor ailments has amplified the importance of patient-centered healthcare in Ontario. The recent addition of six more minor ailments to the list further exemplifies the growing recognition of pharmacists as frontline healthcare providers. As Kristen aptly points out, this expanded role reduces barriers to accessing care and empowers pharmacists to provide the best possible patient-centered service. The economic impact of this transformation is substantial, with the potential to save millions for the province while alleviating the burden on the broader healthcare system. In the future, Kristen hopes that minor ailments serves as a stepping stone to shift public perception of pharmacists as healthcare providers and for full-scope practices for pharmacists, “I do hope minor ailments expands and allows us to provide things like therapeutic substitutions in the future, and eventually autonomous prescribing with established diagnosis because we are absolutely capable of managing patients and their disease states. She continues, “if we have an established diagnosis, we can be a big part of the patient care team in adapting and changing medications as their disease progresses.”

About Kristen Watt

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Kristen Watt is the Owner and Pharmacist at Kristen's Pharmacy in Southampton. She also serves on the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) Board as the Western Ontario Representative. A graduate from the University of Toronto's Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy in 2010, Kristen has extensive experience in various pharmacy settings. Kristen's Pharmacy has played a pivotal role in COVID-19 vaccination efforts, administering over 6,700 vaccines, and she was a vocal advocate for her rural community during the pandemic. In late 2021, her pharmacy underwent renovation to create patient appointment rooms, reflecting her vision for the future of community pharmacy practice. Kristen is actively involved in webinars, guest lectures, and has received awards for her contributions to the field. She also has philanthropic endeavors, including a medical aid tour to Zambia in 2022. Outside of her pharmacy work, Kristen is a dedicated mom and enjoys tweeting as @PharmacistMama. 

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