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In a development that is sure to have implications in the United States healthcare marketplace, Ontario became the latest province in Canada to allow pharmacists to diagnose and prescribe medication for a finite list of acute ailments. According to a report from the CBC, it’s the second-to-last province to do so, with British Columbia being the only holdout at present. Only a handful of U.S. states have opted to let pharmacists “test and treat” a limited range of conditions, to date, but various physician organizations here claim doing so could put patient safety at risk. For one thing, they reason, pharmacies are already understaffed and expanding the pharmacist’s role further would only exacerbate the workload and raise the risk for mistakes. Further, and more obviously, pharmacists do not undergo the same level of training as providers for conducting exams, running tests, and making clinical diagnoses. As of now, pharmacists in most Canadian provinces are authorized to prescribe for 13 conditions (Candidal stomatitis, conjunctivitis, dermatitis, dysmenorrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hemorrhoids, herpes labialis, impetigo, insect bites and urticaria, tick bites, postexposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease, musculoskeletal sprains and strains, and urinary tract infections. The CBC report quotes research findings that 35% of “avoidable” emergency room trips could be managed by pharmacists with prescribing authority “for common or minor health issues.”

North of the Border, Pharmacists Are Creeping Closer to Practicing Medicine