Home » Advocacy » Celebrating Canadian Pharmacy » The Future of Ontario’s Pharmacy Services

Pharmacy professionals apply a flexible, diverse skill set to strengthen Ontario’s health care system and uncomplicate the patient journey.

Justin Bates

Justin Bates

CEO, Ontario Pharmacists Association

Tim Brady

Tim Brady

Pharmacist & Chair, Ontario Pharmacists Association Board of Directors

Sandra Hanna

Sandra Hanna

CEO, Neighbourhood Pharmacies

With 95 percent of Canadians living within five kilometres of a community pharmacy and over 4,600 pharmacies in Ontario, the sector has unquestionably proven the power of its presence and depth of its potential. From the outset of COVID-19 and at every phase of the pandemic, pharmacies repeatedly demonstrated their extensive, impressive capabilities.

Pharmacy professionals are incredibly accessible — in fact, Canadians see their pharmacists up to 10 times more than any other health care provider. Pharmacy professionals work across the entire health care system in hospitals, long-term care, nursing homes, and community settings. Their specialized skill set means they can offer a holistic perspective when overseeing all aspects of the patient journey — from medication management to wellness strategies, from understanding a diagnosis to building a treatment plan, and everything in between.

Pharmacies excel in the dual, vital role of touchpoint for patients to conveniently obtain prompt, trusted, firsthand medical advice, and experienced navigator of what can be an intimidatingly vast and complicated health care system. As more people recognize and utilize pharmacy professionals’ services, pharmacy teams are tackling an ever-expanding variety of health concerns — from routine to specialty care. Pharmacy’s success in addressing this varying complexity of health issues signals the profession’s distinctive blend of capability, flexibility, and accessibility in advancing health care. In celebration of Pharmacy Appreciation Month, the positive impact of pharmacy teams’ essential role as trusted partners on the frontlines of health care cannot be overstated.

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Their doors are always open

With Ontario’s health care system overwhelmed by the pandemic, the government designated pharmacies across the province have been an essential service. They immediately stepped up as convenient, accessible destinations for care in their communities. The government has relied on the pharmacy sector’s expansive network and sophisticated pharmaceutical supply chain to serve as a dependable partner in delivering COVID-19 tests and vaccines. Ontario community pharmacies have successfully administered over 7.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to date and administered over 800,000 COVID-19 PCR tests.

Noting with profound gratitude the tremendous contributions of pharmacy teams, we know they have a unique ability to create capacity in public health and primary care and help build more resilient health systems for the future. By offering patients timely access to care, pharmacies offer Ontarians a convenient option and alternative. They also expand care in a strained health care system that stands to benefit significantly from the responsiveness, innovation, and unparalleled accessibility pharmacies offers.  

Collaborating to support the public

That’s why pharmacy professionals across the province are uniting to bridge the gaps in health care. Backed by research and support from the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy (CFP), Canada’s national pharmacy charity, associations such as the Ontario Pharmacy Association (OPA) and the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada (Neighbourhood Pharmacies) are working on behalf of their members to encourage the further utilization of the pharmacy profession’s capabilities on behalf of the Canadian public.

“It’s important to underscore the integrated nature of Canada’s health care system — we’re a big team working together,” says Justin Bates, CEO of OPA. “The role of pharmacy professionals has expanded beyond medication management, and we’re excited to help boost the system.”

Lessons learned during the pandemic have created an opportune moment to revaluate our health care infrastructure. “Compared to most provinces, Ontario’s pharmacy professionals are lagging behind in allied responsibilities,” Justin adds.

Easing system strain

Both associations are calling for the Ontario government to increase Ontarians’ access to publicly funded routine immunizations by making them available at pharmacies. “Pharmacy professionals aren’t delivering many public health immunizations, even though they have the knowledge and expertise,” explains Sandra Hanna, CEO of Neighbourhood Pharmacies. “Plus, one in four Canadians have missed or delayed a routine immunization during the pandemic.

Pharmacies create capacity alongside our primary care and public health partners and can help get everyone caught up.”

Pharmacists have the knowledge to safely assess and prescribe treatment for minor ailments, such as pink eye, heartburn, dermatitis, cold sores, insect bites, and urinary tract infections. A practicing pharmacist herself, Sandra knows this change would improve the care process for patients and save the system money. “Imagine if you could go to a pharmacy to be assessed for minor ailments and get medication all in one visit. We’d reduce the number of people going to their doctors or emergency rooms unless necessary while minimizing the risk of worsening ailments,” Sandra adds. “By building on their role in offering COVID-19 testing, pharmacies could also offer a wider range of similar tests for disease screening and management.”

Doing better for our community

Both the OPA and Neighbourhood Pharmacies align on key recommendations that would build on the expertise of pharmacy professionals and leverage the convenience and accessibility of pharmacies as community health hubs. Using data from practice research supported by the CFP, the associations continue to inform and advise policymakers that directly involving and including the pharmacy profession in health care policies improves patient care while saving taxpayer money.

“We’re so proud of Canada’s pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. They’re trusted, hardworking individuals stepping up to the plate,” says Tim Brady, Pharmacist, and Chair of the OPA’s Board of Directors. “We want policymakers to consider that it’s in the public’s best interest to utilize all practitioner’s skills and abilities to make our system run efficiently.”

Speak with your MPP and electoral candidates about unlocking pharmacy’s potential by making routine immunizations more accessible through pharmacies and enabling pharmacists to assess and prescribe for minor ailments.

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