APRIL 2020 – Whether it’s expanding pharmacy services or scaling them back in times of crisis, pharmacist/owner Victor Wong believes pharmacies need to embrace their critical role in Canada’s healthcare.
Wong saw the value in offering expanded services soon after he opened his first Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy in Toronto 11 years ago. “We adopted medication reviews very early on and even brought in extra pharmacists so we had enough [resources] to have those one-on-one conversations with patients depending on complexity,” he says. “Now we’re using pharmacy students in the summertime to help with reviews under the supervision of a pharmacist, and they love having the opportunity.”
As the owner of two Toronto-based Shoppers Drug Marts now, Wong says he took a step-wise approach to expanded scope, implementing more and more services (e.g., vaccinations, prescription extensions etc.) as they became available for pharmacists. “Now we’re looking forward to providing minor ailment prescribing [when that’s available] and staff are so excited about that.”
In these current pandemic times, Wong says having pharmacists’ scope temporarily expanded further has been a godsend in terms of helping patients get timely access to medication. “We can extend controlled and narcotic medications and we can take in verbal/emailed prescriptions,” he says. With recent drug shortages requiring patients to switch medications, Wong says medication consults over the phone have been invaluable in helping curb patients’ concerns around alternate drug therapies.
Wong has also had to adjust pharmacy services to ensure the safety of patients and his 80 staff members. “We aren’t accepting expired medications or used sharp containers until COVID passes,” says Wong, noting that injections and device training are temporarily suspended too. “We’re not venturing into the aisles to counsel patients as we normally would either unless we have masks on.”
Fortunately, he hasn’t had to lay off staff, but he has divided employees into two separate shifts to minimize the number of people who could be infected if a staff member becomes ill. “We got hold of gloves, masks and hand sanitizers, and set up barriers quickly too so staff felt safe,” says Wong. “We make sure that everyone’s breaks are staggered and people can take their lunch in the counselling rooms, which aren’t being used now.”
Wong says the benefit of embracing new practice scopes throughout the years, has resulted in more and more patients using these services, including those they have to pay out of pocket for. “Over the last several years we’ve had a bigger and bigger uptake of people who are willing to pay for things like injections fees,” he says.