Pharmacy rewards in N.S. staying for now as other provinces vote to ban practice
Regulatory body in N.S. says policy established in 2013 'seems to be working'
Bucking a national trend, the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists has no plans to ban consumers from collecting loyalty points or other incentives with their pharmacy purchases.
"We don't see a need to take any additional action," said Beverly Zwicker, the college's registrar. "There isn't anything that would indicate that the public is at risk from this current practice."
On Saturday, pharmacists in New Brunswick voted to ban any form of consumer enticements connected to prescription purchases, including cash, prizes, coupons or loyalty points.
The ban also applies to pharmacy services such as prescription refills or vaccines.
"This decision has been in the making for several years," said Anastasia Shiamptanis, the registrar of the New Brunswick College of Pharmacists. "It would be unethical to provide a type of reward to somebody for providing health care."
New Brunswick is the seventh province in Canada to adopt the policy, following Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
But Zwicker said Nova Scotia's pharmacists addressed this ethical question nine years ago and came to a different conclusion.
"I don't want to judge what they've done," she said. "But what we established in 2013 seems to be working."
'Competing public interests'
Zwicker said there are "competing public interests at play," including "the tangible benefits that people realize from rewards, as well as the value of those rewards programs in encouraging patients to remain at one pharmacy."
Zwicker said seeing the same pharmacist regularly allows for closer monitoring of a patient's health and more chances to flag possible drug interactions.
In 2013, Nova Scotia pharmacies were aggressively recruiting patients by offering bonuses for switching, but the practice was stopped out of concern for continuity of care.
"They created a regulation that essentially banned inducements or bonus programs that were limited to new patients only," she said.
Open to change
Zwicker said her college enforces professional standards that ensure Nova Scotians receive the same treatment everywhere.
She noted the province's centralized drug information system allows pharmacists to see patients' complete prescription histories from anywhere.
"Both of these measures ensure that patients receive a similar standard of care in each pharmacy, and that a complete medication record is maintained regardless of which pharmacy the patient chooses to receive care from," she said.
Zwicker said the college welcomes all public feedback. She said if there's outcry for change, the policy can always be reviewed.
In New Brunswick, the ban required a vote from all pharmacists at the college's annual meeting; however, in Nova Scotia, the college's executive can draft a change and submit it to the province for approval.
"We believe that the public interest would warn us in taking action. We would certainly do that. But there hasn't been anything," said Zwicker.