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Local Directory for Ottawa, ON


Pharmacists: Not just pill counters

I recently discovered that pharmacists can do way more than count pills and warn me not to operate machinery. This newfound knowledge came as a result of two surprisingly positive encounters with pharmacists in the last couple of weeks. (Not that my prior encounters with pharmacists were negative; for the most part they were neutral.)

Positive Pharmacist Encounter #1: A specialist did not respond to several faxed requests to renew a prescription. The pharmacist was able to prescribe a one-month supply of the medication to tide me over until my next appointment with this doctor!

Positive Pharmacist Encounter #2: I was picking up my 6th prescription for migraine prevention pills, and I mentioned to the nice new pharmacist that they didn’t seem to be working: I’ve been taking five pills a day for six months, without any improvement. He suggested I ask the doctor (a neurologist) about a different prevention medication. Yeah, I said, but she’s booked solid until November. Not only that, but I got a letter from my health insurer saying that I’ve hit the limit on the number of Relpax (migraine abortives) they’ll pay for. (I take five migraine prevention pills a day, which don’t work, and I take one $17 Relpax, which does work, whenever I get a migraine, which is about 20 times a month.)

To my surprise, the nice new pharmacist said he’d see what he could do. He said he’d get in touch with the neurologist’s office to let them know the prevention meds weren’t working, and he’d contact my insurer to see if an exception could be made. Less than a week later I received a letter from my insurer, saying they would continue paying for my Relpax!

I was so astonished and happy, I felt like hugging my pharmacist and baking him some cookies!

I didn’t even know pharmacists could intervene in matters like this. I always assumed that doctors have patients and pharmacists have customers…I thought of pharmacists as specialized retailers rather than health care providers. I knew they went to school for a long time and had encyclopedic knowledge about drugs, but I didn’t know they could be of such enormous practical benefit to me. Check out this chart that outlines Pharmacists’ Expanded Scope of Practice Activities by Province. They’ve got some significant powers here in Ontario, and in Alberta they’re practically God-like!

Pharmacists even have some collective opinions on all kinds of interesting public policy issues, ranging from breastfeeding to the environment.

Historically, I think apothecaries had a broader scope of practice than pharmacists. Maybe the pendulum is finally swinging away from increasing specialization and back towards greater diversification of roles. I think it’s terrific for health care consumers, as it will help clear out some of the bottlenecks in the system.

7 comments to Pharmacists: Not just pill counters

  • That’s it, I want to be Canadian!! I’ve had a good relationship with a local pharmacist (Luvya, Dr. Ronnie!), but now my primary care provider has her own pharmacy tech in her her office, and expects me to get all my meds from some glorified clerk. I’m seeing the doctor tomorrow, and will tell her no thanks on the pharm tech.

  • Fabulous. Who knew.

    Glad you could get more migraine meds. They do help.

    The only info I got from my pharmacist is that I look like a qualify for the senior citizen discount. Not for another 20 years or so, thanks. I think I got a free dose of Pharmacist-Stress Traumatic Disorder.

  • I envy you those pharmacists. I adore the one at my local drug store but my insurance insists I use the one they prefer. They’re nice people but I had a relationship with my local person.

    I think pharmacists’ roles are more conscripted here in the states. I’ve heard of a pharmacist giving a few pills to tide someone over but never a month’s worth. What a blessing for you.

  • Mary P

    I discovered that in some states in the US including mine, pharmacists can extend prescriptions. I also discovered that my pharmacist can compound not just count pills and fill bottles. He was able to formulate a cream for my dermatitis that was once available from a major drug company but is no longer on the market.

  • …when I was (essentially) homeless, pharmacists in Ottawa and Toronto were always cool to me. I could walk in to any Shoppers DM and get a week or two of Lithium for free. Most of them would give me directions to a street clinic.

    The pharmacist I have now is great, I never have to schedule ‘between-appointments’ appointments with my family doctor to renew prescriptions. He just faxes a request, and the renewal gets faxed back. Usually within the hour.

    If they can’t get something back that day, they’ll usually front me a few days worth to keep me going.

  • grace

    Our daughter is a brand spanking new pharmacist and very serious about her role as a health care provider. She definitely does not have customers!

    My own pharmacist is proactive in providing information about their extended scope and knowing that our family will never have a prescription emergency is very comforting.

    Hope you find something that works for your migraines. 20 a month is brutal.

  • Cara

    I liked chemistry in school and seriously considered becoming a pharmacist, especially one who works in a hospital, but having to dissect cadavers put me off.