Pharmacies: A Breakthrough Solution to Primary Care
For people without a doctor, pharmacy-based primary care in Nova Scotia is turning out to be a game-changer.
“It’s a Godsend,” says Lower Sackville resident Judy Gard. “We figured we won the jackpot.”
Pharmacist-led clinics are offering Nova Scotians a faster, easier way to talk to a healthcare professional, and to treat common illnesses and manage chronic conditions.
Gard says: “We were lucky to have a doctor for many years. But when he retired, I was really afraid. I didn't want to go to the ER and take a seat in there and wait for hours.”
With 30 locations across the province and counting, these enhanced pharmacy-based clinics give pharmacists dedicated time to see patients and use their full scope of practice – assessing conditions like strep throat, pink eye, and UTIs, and managing medication for chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“It took away all my fears,” says Gard. “If we need blood work, if we need anything, it's all there. We have everything we need. This has been a real gift for us.”
Pharmacists have been trained and ready to provide a wider range of healthcare service for a long time. But the COVID-19 pandemic made their skill set clear to everyone.
“Pharmacists have been really under-utilized in the health care system,” says Pam Kennedy, a pharmacist at the Bridgewater Guardian Community Pharmacy Primary Care Clinic. “There hasn’t been a platform for us to do the clinical work we’ve trained for at university.”
“But in the pressure of COVID, we demonstrated what we're able to do. Our team delivered over 30,000 COVID-19 vaccinations through the pandemic. That’s an extraordinary number. People realized how efficient a pharmacy is. That we're another, reliable source in the health care world. That we’re willing and able to step up.”
Allison Bodnar, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, echoes Kennedy’s thinking: “For such a long time, we've had this amazing scope of practice that the system was simply not using. People are recognizing these incredibly skilled and trained professionals can do so much more. We're just now tapping into that potential.”
As more patients become aware of the service, pharmacy bookings are continuing to rise. Asked if the clinic’s success means a lot more work for her team, Kennedy responds: “There are certainly days when it can be stressful: you're trying to see as many patients as you can.”
Kennedy’s voice then softens: “But the feedback from patients, patients literally in tears because they're so happy, especially with chronic disease management, to be able to finally have somebody to attend to them – blood work, a medication or therapy adjusted, a referral – it's a very rewarding feeling as a pharmacist.”
Bridgewater resident Russell Lowe agrees: “This is the best thing I ever had. One hundred per cent. I wouldn't be here today. But they got me on the right track. The pain has gone in my chest. I keep telling them, you guys are the best I ever had. They’re there for you.”
Mr. Lowe uses a Pharmacist Walk In Clinic in a Lawtons Drugs close to his home, making for an easy trip. As a “Pharmacist Walk-in Clinic+”, this community pharmacy has the added benefit of a nurse practitioner. For him, the upside is clear: “I’d rather go there than sit at the hospital. You go to the hospital, you have to wait 8 or 12 hours. You got to wait to get a hold of a doctor. There are people at the clinic that're going to help you right away. They’re on the ball.”
Any Nova Scotian with a valid health card can book an appointment during business hours at either a “Community Pharmacy Primary Care Clinic” or a “Pharmacist Walk In Clinic+.”
Kennedy says: “If you have a Nova Scotia health card, it's free game: you can book anywhere one of the clinics is available. We're seeing on average 25 to 30 patients a day. We keep a few spots open every day for urgent things like urinary tract infection, tick bites, shingles, or strep throat assessments.”
Gard puts it simply: “You book an appointment. You don't sit and wait. I never feel rushed ever. But they don't go over their time.”
Gard and Lowe’s experiences are prime examples how this model is providing the right care, at the right place, at the right time. And that’s playing a key role in improving the health and health care for all Nova Scotians.
Photo of Sue Battersby-Campbell, Nurse Practitioner (left) with a patient (right) and a pharmacist from the Lawtons Mill Cove locations (centre).