When Health Canada approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years, they added one more category of care to the long list of services that Ontario pharmacy professionals may offer patients. That list includes the recent addition of point-of-care tests for certain chronic conditions and, coming January 1, prescribing drugs for some minor ailments. The recognition of the breadth of skills and expertise of pharmacy professionals is welcome.
In addition to these services pharmacy professionals may now be called upon to provide, I am thinking about the expansion of the COVID-19 boosters, the coming flu season, kids going back to school and the implications of offices requiring their staff to return to the physical space after the COVID-19 hiatus. Healthcare services in Ontario are under such pressure that increasing numbers of patients are looking to find care from different providers than they might have relied on the past, and now, more than ever, many of them are choosing pharmacy professionals as their first resource.
The expanding scope for pharmacy professionals is intended to make the most of all available resources to improve access to care for Ontario patients in a straining system. But will it achieve this goal?
In my short time at OCP, I have been reading and hearing about pharmacy professional burnout in community pharmacies and the pressures both on the business and patient demand side to provide more and more services without a commensurate increase in resources or support. We have been hearing about similar pressures in hospital pharmacies, where staffing shortages and absences continue to plague service delivery. From patients, I hear concerns that pharmacy professionals don’t have enough time to really talk with them, or provide the physical privacy required to provide them with the information or care they wish for.
As your scope expands, you have a better opportunity than ever to offer your patients the one-on-one care that you want to provide. But the pressures associated with high patient volumes will continue to mount this fall. And there comes a breaking point, doesn’t there? In the short term, you may provide more services to more patients, but there’s a risk that at some point those services may not meet expected standards of practice for patient care and safety, and in the long term, this will take a toll on your professional life as well as your personal health and well-being.
We understand that the profession needs specific solutions and strategies to cope with competing demands. The College’s authority to implement changes at the systems level is limited to its scope as a regulatory body. Recognizing the many factors at play, in the coming months we will be meeting with stakeholders, including corporate leaders, who also have a role to play when it comes to pharmacy professionals’ autonomy and their ability to deliver quality and safe patient care. In the meantime, do your best to prioritize your needs to stay healthy and continue to meet standards, and please send me an email at email@example.com if you have suggestions about how the College might strengthen its tools to support you to offer the best possible quality of care in these difficult times.