After just one year of implementation, Ontario pharmacists have completed over 650,000 minor ailment assessments, leading to referrals, consultations, and prescriptions. The induction of minor ailments in Ontario pharmacies is a significant advocacy achievement, resulting from a long and determined effort by the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) and key stakeholders. This initiative has enhanced healthcare accessibility, particularly in rural communities, and highlighted the crucial role pharmacists play in the healthcare sector.  

Tracey Phillips, a pharmacist in Westport, Ontario, exemplifies the transformative impact of this expanded scope. With over 30 years of experience, Phillips has witnessed firsthand the positive reception of minor ailments in pharmacies from her community. “Patients are really appreciative. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” she says, noting the program’s focus on patient care, flexibility, and choice.  

This initiative is not just a testament to pharmacists’ capabilities but also a significant step toward alleviating the strain on the broader healthcare system. The ability for pharmacists to prescribe and assess for minor ailments was first introduced in Ontario on January 1, 2023, and expanded to include six more ailments by October 2023, underscoring the public demand and the necessity for such services. These advancements allow pharmacists to provide timely care, particularly in regions lacking immediate access to primary healthcare providers. As of December 2023, the top three minor ailment claims in pharmacies included conjunctivitis, UTIs, and herpes labialis.  

Phillips highlights the practical adjustments necessary for integrating minor ailment assessments into daily pharmacy operations. Utilizing tools like clinical viewers and MAPflow, she ensures patient safety and efficient workflow management. “Being able to fit this into your workflow means you need to have all the appropriate tools,” Phillips explains. The coordination with her staff, from pharmacy technicians to individuals triaging calls, is crucial in maintaining pharmacy operations and minor ailments service efficiency. 

 The ability for patients to access care through a pharmacy in remote areas is another pillar supporting the success of this initiative. In Westport, where access to walk-in clinics or urgent care is limited, the expanded scope for pharmacists has been an advantage, Phillips elaborates, “We already have a wonderful collaborative relationship with all of our practitioners…this expansion of scope has really helped us fill in some of those gaps.” 

Despite initial concerns about patient expectations for immediate consultations, Phillips found that structured scheduling alleviates potential workflow disruptions. “I thought patients would just be dropping in expecting a minor ailment consultation right away, but it hasn’t really been that way,” she reflects. By setting aside specific appointment times, her team has successfully managed patient flow, ensuring that quality care is consistently delivered. 

The advocacy efforts of OPA have been instrumental in these advancements. The Association’s efforts not only facilitated the current scope expansion but also continue to drive forward the agenda for further inclusions. As the government explores additional minor ailments to be added, the program’s success speaks volumes about the pharmacists’ ability to provide autonomous, safe, and effective prescribing. Currently, Alberta is the only province in Canada that grants pharmacists full prescribing authority, allowing them to prescribe nearly all medications (except narcotics, controlled drugs, or targeted substances) and modify prescriptions for conditions and ailments without requiring a doctor’s prescription. 

Phillips shares a meaningful example of the program’s impact: “One of my regular clients was out of town at a funeral and developed a UTI. She called me because I know her history. I was able to do her consultation, write her prescription, and send it to a pharmacy in the community she was visiting.” This scenario illustrates the profound patient choice and continuity of care enabled by pharmacists’ expanded prescribing powers. 

The expanded scope for Ontario pharmacists is a remarkable stride in enhancing healthcare accessibility and quality. It highlights the essential role pharmacists play within the healthcare team, meeting community needs efficiently and effectively. As Phillips suitably puts it, “Minor ailment prescribing is just one more tool in that toolbox that allows us to really be independent, make important professional decisions for patients, and efficiently implement them for the patient’s overall well-being.” 

Minor ailments has positioned Ontario pharmacists as pivotal healthcare providers, driving forward a more accessible, patient-centered healthcare system. The journey continues, with OPA’s advocacy ensuring that the role of pharmacists in patient care continues to evolve and expand, meeting the ever-growing needs of the communities they serve. 

 About Tracey Phillips, B.Sc.Phm, MBA

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Tracey Phillips brings over three decades of diverse pharmacy expertise to her role as a respected pharmacist and community leader in Westport, Ontario. As the owner of an IDA pharmacy, she actively contributes to local prosperity and health initiatives. Beyond her pharmacy business, Tracey has held significant community positions, including President of the Chamber of Commerce and Board member of Valley Heartland Community Futures Development Corporation. Her entrepreneurial ventures include ownership of Central Fill Solutions Inc., specializing in compliance packaging for independent pharmacists, and serving as Chief Pharmacy Officer at Felix Health, a national telemedicine platform with integrated pharmacies. Previously, Tracey held pivotal roles at Rexall, where she spearheaded pharmacy programs, vendor relations, and health clinics, becoming a recognized spokesperson on pharmacy health issues. A notable figure in Ontario’s pharmacy sector, she has served on McKesson’s National Advisory Board and held leadership positions at the Ontario College of Pharmacists. Tracey holds an Executive Masters from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from the same institution. Her extensive teaching contributions and recognition as a leader in Pharmacy Business exhibit her profound impact on the profession. 

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