MAY 2017 – For every dollar spent on pharmacists’ prescribing for minor ailments in Saskatchewan in 2014, the province saved $2.15 in direct healthcare costs and indirect costs (e.g., lost productivity). This positive return on investment is predicted to increase to $2.53 by 2019, according to researchers at the University of Saskatchewan who are wrapping up a multi-phase study on pharmacists prescribing for minor ailments, funded in part by the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy’s Innovation Fund.
The final phase was an economic impact analysis using data on the number of pharmacy consultations for minor ailments billed to Saskatchewan’s drug plan from 2012 to 2015, with projected cumulative savings up to and including 2019. In addition to the consultation fee of $18 for pharmacies, the analysis considered a wide range of costs, such as the average costs for prescription and OTC drugs, pharmacist training, wait times and travel costs for patients. It weighed these costs against costs generated under alternative treatment scenarios, i.e., the patient self-treating with an OTC, going to a family physician or going to the emergency department. The information for these alternative scenarios were based on results from phase one of the research project, completed in 2013, which surveyed pharmacy customers who had received pharmacist prescribing services for minor ailments.
The findings of the economic impact analysis were published online in April in the health economics journal, Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation.
In real dollars, pharmacists prescribing for minor ailments saved the province $546,832 in direct and indirect costs in 2014. The cumulative savings to Saskatchewan are projected to reach a total of $3.5 million in 2019. When the indirect savings are removed, however, the public drug plan saved just $8,250 in direct costs in 2014, with cumulative savings predicted to reach $47,385 in 2019. These results reflect that the savings gained from the fees paid to pharmacies, which are lower than the costs of visits to physicians and emergency departments, are offset by the increased number of visits to pharmacists, who are more accessible than physicians or emergency staff.
And while the direct savings may not be as compelling as those to society at large, they still confirm that the province’s investment in pharmacists prescribing for minor ailments is a step in the right direction to shift the allocation of healthcare resources, so that physicians and emergency departments can focus more on patients with more complex needs. “During our consumer research, some patients clearly said they would have gone to their doctor or even the emergency department if the pharmacist had not helped out. This has big implications for payers,” says Jeff Taylor, co-principal investigator of the research project.