Saskatchewan

Sask. pharmacists can now prescribe birth control and UTI medication

Women in Saskatchewan no longer have to go to a doctor to get a prescription for hormonal contraceptives or urinary tract infection medication.

No appointment is required, says Pharmacy Association

Pharmacists practising in the province of Saskatchewan were recently allowed to write prescriptions for birth control and antibiotics for UTIs. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Women in Saskatchewan no longer have to go to a doctor to get a prescription for hormonal contraceptives or urinary tract infection medication.

Recently, pharmacists in the province were granted authority to write prescriptions for birth control and antibiotics for UTIs, commonly known as bladder infections.

The change was spurred by a province-wide initiative by the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professions (SCPP) and College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Ministry of Health.

Dawn Martin, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Saskatchewan, said most pharmacists will provide this service through local pharmacies.

"They're so accessible and have additional hours and are available across Saskatchewan," she said. "So we see this as being an additional contribution that pharmacists make to the health system."

"This is something that pharmacists are trained to do. This is something that they welcome and that they want to work with patients on."

It's a change that has been in the works for about seven years, according to Martin, who said pharmacists started by prescribing medication for a few minor ailments and offering smoking cessation counselling. Over time, their authority has expanded.

"Pharmacies are really hubs of care in many communities in Saskatchewan and we just believe that we can do more to help patients and to be navigators in the system," Martin said.

You can just walk up to the counter at your local drug store and speak to a pharmacist about a prescription if they aren't busy. No appointment is required.

Most healthy women of child-bearing age can receive a prescription from a pharmacist for a hormonal contraception after an assessment. Martin said pharmacists will use their professional judgment when it comes to mature minors asking for birth control.

According to the Pharmacy Association, pharmacies may charge patients a fee for the assessment required to prescribe for bladder infections and birth control, in addition to the cost of the medication. The assessment fee may be eligible for reimbursement if a patient has an extended health plan.

Pharmacists offering more services

Judith Soon, assistant professor at UBC in pharmaceutical sciences, was in Regina and Saskatoon to train pharmacists in Saskatchewan on prescribing.

Soon said the SCPP told her it had been approached by many pharmacists in Saskatchewan who were interested in prescribing. Soon said in both locations the room was packed with professionals from all over the province.

"Many small communities have a pharmacy but the woman may have to drive 40 or 60 kilometres to get to a physician," Soon said. "When a woman inquires about birth control, it's usually they need it right away and so it's not a good idea for them to have to wait two or three weeks to get an appointment with a physician or nurse practitioner."
Most healthy women, between the ages of 18 and 34 can receive a prescription from a pharmacist for a hormonal contraception.

Soon said it's also a way for women to get more knowledge about their options. Oral contraceptive pills might not be right for everyone, she said. Instead, a Depo-Provera injection that lasts for three months or an intrauterine device that lasts up to 10 years might be better. In that case, pharmacists can offer pills in the short term until patients can see a doctor for a more long-term solution.

"In the contraception area, what's most important is they work with the individual woman to choose the best and the most effective method that works for her," Soon said. "The best way to reduce the need for abortion is matching the needs of the woman with her type of contraception."

Martin said pharmacists are also taking part in a Medication Assessment Program to help seniors and mental health patients manage and improve their medications. She said the Pharmacy Association is working to expand the program to chronic disease patients, including those with diabetes.

Pharmacists have the ability to work with hypertension patients but can't adjust their medications or initiate prescriptions in that area. That's also something she said she is hoping for. According to a recent study, if pharmacists in Saskatchewan were able to do so, they would save the Ministry of Health $423 million in the next three decades and improve patient care.

"We're advocating for a continued evolution of that kind of service for pharmacists in the system and for patients," Martin said.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

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