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Pharmacist-led clinics improve access to health care: Lessons from Alberta

  • In Canada, 35 per cent of avoidable emergency room visits could be handled by pharmacists.

Thursday, May 9, 2024 – Emulating Alberta’s pharmacist-led clinic model could enhance access to primary care and help avoid unnecessary emergency room visits, according to a new study from the Montreal Economic Institute.

“Pharmacists know medication better than anyone else in our health systems,” explains Krystle Wittevrongel, senior public policy analyst and Alberta project lead at the MEI. “By unlocking their full potential in prescribing and substituting medications, Alberta’s pharmacist-led clinics have helped avoid tens of thousands of unnecessary emergency room visits.”

Pharmacists in Alberta have the largest prescribing authority in the country, including the ability to prescribe schedule one drugs with special training.

Unlike in Ontario and Manitoba, Alberta pharmacists are authorized to substitute prescribed medications, which can help address issues such as adverse reactions caused by interaction with other treatments.

The study explains that this can help reduce pressure on hospitals, as prescription-related issues account for more than 10 per cent of emergency room visits.

Alberta’s first pharmacist-led clinic, in Lethbridge, sees between 14,600 and 21,900 patients per year since opening in 2022.

It is expected that there will be 103 such clinics active in the province by the end of 2024.

The researcher also links the success of the pharmacist-led clinic model in Alberta to pharmacists’ expanded scope of practice in the province.

Among other things, Alberta pharmacists are able to order and interpret lab tests, unlike their counterparts in British Columbia, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study found that pharmacists could handle 35 per cent of avoidable emergency room visits in Canada.

“By enabling pharmacists to play a larger role in its health system, Alberta is redirecting minor cases from emergency rooms to more appropriate facilities,” said Wittevrongel. “Just imagine how much faster things could be if pharmacists could take care of 35 per cent of the unnecessary load placed on Canada’s emergency rooms.”

The MEI study is available here.

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The MEI is an independent public policy think tank with offices in Montreal and Calgary. Through its publications, media appearances, and advisory services to policy-makers, the MEI stimulates public policy debate and reforms based on sound economics and entrepreneurship. 

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