Nova Scotia pharmacists soon can assess patients and prescribe

Nova Scotia physicians are alarmed at a pilot project that will allow pharmacists to assess patients for specific conditions, thus freeing up the physicians to focus on more serious health matters.

Participating pharmacists will receive compensation from the province for assessing Pharmacare patients for three minor conditions — allergies, cold sores and eczema. They will also be able to prescribe medicine to treat these conditions.

This is not entirely new, however. For the last five years, pharmacists have had approval to both evaluate patients and prescribe medication. Pharmacare did not render payment to them for these assessments, and that has now changed.

Since patients were responsible for the cost of these pharmaceutical services, not many took advantage of it. Under the new program, pharmacists will be compensated $20 for each patient assessment; $11 cheaper than an average trip to a doctor for the same result.

Concerns over potential conflicts of interest have been broached, harkening back to times when doctors also dispensed the medicines they prescribed. The medical and pharmaceutical community remains divided about the program set to go live next month.

A member of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia disavows any suggestion of conflicts of interest, noting that the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, the entity charged with regulating pharmacists, developed the guidelines for the pilot program in order to assist the public.

While highly trained, pharmacists are not physicians and have not received the educational background and extensive training that physicians undergo in order to diagnose and prescribe for their patients. As this program is unveiled, it will likely be carefully scrutinized to ensure that misdiagnoses do not occur.

Source: CBC News, “Nova Scotia doctors concerned about expanded pharmacists’ duties,” April 21, 2015

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