Who are Pharmacists?

CPhA Submission to the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care In Canada

When used effectively, the pharmacist can improve Canadians' health by being involved in the use of drugs, which are the frequently used medical intervention. However, by and large, the knowledge and skills of pharmacists are underutilized. This makes the pharmacist the best kept secret in Canadian health care.

In their current role, pharmacists contribute to the health care system by:

  • working with patients to ensure they achieve their health goals by improving the quality of drug therapy
  • assessing drug therapy for possible interactions with current medications and health conditions
  • assessing patients for positive response to drug therapy
  • assessing patients for adverse reactions to medications
  • making recommendations to prescribers for adjustments to therapy to enhance the quality of care
  • providing education to patients and caregivers on proper use of medications and medical devices
  • managing minor illness by advising Canadians on self-care and the use of nonprescription medications
  • health screening and health promotion
  • ensuring safe, secure and effective distribution of medications.

Pharmacists in Canada deliver innovative services, including:

  • home visits to help patients with medication-related problems
  • preparation of intravenous drugs and education regarding administration in the home environment
  • education on self-management of diseases such as asthma or diabetes
  • palliative care to improve symptom control in terminally ill patients
  • medications for emergency contraception
  • initiation and adjustment of doses of medications, such as anticoagulants (blood thinners) and cholesterol-lowering medications.

Using the full extent of his/her education and training, the pharmacist could also improve the health of Canadians by:

  • increasing the use of clinically proven, life-sustaining drugs by critically assessing patients' drug therapy and intervening with the physician
  • reducing the use of unnecessary and inappropriate medications taken by Canadians
  • ensuring that Canadians are achieving the goals of drug therapy by actively participating in monitoring the positive and negative effects of drugs
  • improving the quality of health care and drug therapy for Canadian by participating in development and implementation of clinical practice guidelines and leading edge research.

Pharmacists are well qualified to be the drug experts in the health care system because:

  • they have a minimum of five years' university education devoted to drugs and their use
  • a growing number of pharmacists have an additional two-year Doctor of Pharmacy degree
  • they are licensed and must meet and maintain rigorous standards through national and provincial examination processes
  • they are developing state-of-the-art competency assurance programs to ensure pharmacists are up to date and informed to act as drug experts
  • a growing number of pharmacists are being recognized as drug experts via appointments to faculties of medicine across the country.

Pharmacists are well positioned to be the primary provider of drug-related information because:

  • they are the most accessible health care professionals, with over 19,00 pharmacists in 7,000 community pharmacies across the country, plus over 4,000 pharmacists in over 500 hospitals and many other health care venues
  • they are also found in government, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and academia, and the demand for pharmacists' knowledge and skills in nontraditional settings is increasing.

'Given the evidence of drug-related complications... and the well-documented ability of pharmacists to anticipate and forestall many of these problems…pharmacists will be increasingly valued and demanded for their knowledge, skills, and cost-effective contribution to the health care system.'

HRDC Situational Analysis 2001

In summary, pharmacists make very significant contributions to the health care system, but they could do much more and provide significant input to help improve the current situation. Drugs are now the most commonly used intervention to alter health, and only the pharmacist, among the health professionals, has extensive training devoted to drugs.

The pharmacist is ready, willing and able to become involved in a multidisciplinary team approach at virtually every point in the provision of health care, from health promotion/prevention to palliative care.