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Taking a panoramic view of the effect Covid-19 has on pharmacies

At Pharmasave Summerland, we want our community members to know that we are 100% committed to serving our patients.

Patients who have filled or refilled prescriptions recently may have noticed receiving a smaller supply than usual. We want to ensure complete transparency around why this is being done.

Pharmacies have been dealing with drug shortages for years and since the Covid-19 pandemic started the situation has only been exacerbated. Pharmacists are stewards of the drug supply and must protect the supply of medication for their patients. As COVID-19 started to reach BC, we quickly began to see a significant surge in demand for certain medical supplies and medications. As front-line health care workers, pharmacists and pharmacies saw the frenetic panic buying in early March of prescription medications along with supplies of sanitizers, masks, gloves and toilet paper. This surge in demand alarmed not only our pharmacists, but the regulators, government, manufacturers and the pharmacy wholesale industry. This type of unprecedented activity was putting the drug supply at risk and something had to be done to ensure that patients could access medication when they needed them.

The current risk of shortages is significant because not only has there been an increase in demand but the global supply chain has been disrupted by the circumstances created by COVID-19. Many of the raw ingredients in our medications come from China and India. Both of those countries have work stoppages in place and restrictions on exports. Countries around the world are competing for supply. Currently, there are more than 2000 medications on Canada’s Drug Shortage list (www.drugshortagescanada.ca) with almost 70 more anticipated shortages. Pharmacy wholesalers are trying to manage shortages by limiting the quantity of medications that a pharmacy can order. For most pharmacies, this means they are not even getting their normal allocation of medication.

A solution to balancing the pressure on the distribution system has been the implementation of a policy to adopt dispensing only a 30-day supply of medications for on-going conditions. Without a 30-day supply limit for all patients, pharmacies could be faced with the decision to fill one patient’s 90-day prescription, leaving two other patients without the vital drug needed to manage their condition. Under this policy, all three patients will get the medication they need for the month. However, in undertaking this role, pharmacies are faced with dispensing medications three times instead of once.

Most provincial plans and all third-party plans have waived mandated 3 month supply on chronic medications to a 30-day supply to address shortages in drug supply chain in best effort to ensure all patients continue to receive their regular prescription medications. These measures to PREVENT drug shortages have been endorsed by our College and Pharmacy Association so that we are not in a situation where some people are stock piling medications and others will be left without.

As for dispensing fees…YES we do receive a fee for each prescription that we fill and it is commensurate with work load to dispense the prescription. Each time a prescription is filled, the Standards of Practice require that the pharmacist ensure it is the right medication for the patient at that time, given the patient’s health history, allergies and other relevant conditions. These requirements must be met regardless of whether there are 7, 14, 30, 60 or 90 days of medication supplied. The work involved to dispense a prescription is the same and it is why dispensing fees are independent of both the number of days supplied and the cost of the medication.

All BC residents are entitled to FAIR PHARMACARE which is tied into person’s financial means so no one in our province will be paying beyond their means unlike our neighbours to the south. Pharmacists are front line workers and we continue to operate under these challenging circumstances adapting to current situation to meet needs of our patients. We have seen doctor offices closing with most moving to a telehealth platform as well as walk-in clinics limiting patient visits. Again, the expectation is pharmacists will step up and work beyond customary scope adapting and doing emergency filling of prescriptions as patients cannot get appointments to see their physician in timely fashion.

To keep our patients and pharmacy team members safe we have implemented both active and passive screening prior to entry to our pharmacy, as well as installing physical barriers as personal protective equipment is not available. We have seen a significant increase in home deliveries, personal shopping for customers, processing transactions remotely and increasing cleaning to keep environment we are working in safe and sanitary. All of the costs associated with this has been paid by us, the pharmacies. We hope this brings some clarity around the situation pharmacies and pharmacists are currently facing in this COVID 19 pandemic.

We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our patients as we do our part to protect supply so we can best serve our community. Together, we will get through this.

~ Felicity Stahl, BSc. Pharm. (owner of Pharmasave Summerland)