Pharmacies deliver a growing range of primary healthcare medication and patient services — and they are set to play an even larger role as the country’s broader healthcare system evolves to address the needs of an aging population managing their chronic conditions.

The first way neighbourhood pharmacies can be expected to change will be through continued expansion of pharmacists’ scope of practice, enabling pharmacists to administer more vaccines, such as travel shots and the range of vaccines now more typically delivered through the public health service channels, such as HPV and meningitis, as well as other patient-focused services.

Another way neighbourhood pharmacies will enhance their value to patients and the healthcare system alike will be through more standardization of services across the country — so patients can expect to access the same offering in all provinces and territories, instead of the current patchwork approach.

There are also further healthcare system benefits to be achieved by using the pharmacy industry’s distribution system for delivering vaccines to pharmacies. This system already operates well, providing pharmacies with needed medical products, effectively maintaining product integrity, including cold chain protection, and delivering daily on a just-in-time basis.

“They are set to play an even larger role as the country’s broader healthcare system evolves to address the needs of an aging population managing their chronic conditions…” 

In pharmacies themselves, there’s another change under way, as they evolve from focusing on dispensing medications and educating and counselling patients on their use, to engaging with their patients on overall wellness and preventive measures that will lead to longer, happier, healthier lives.  Pharmacy slang for this evolution is ‘changing the focus, from pills to patients.’

As just one example, the University of British Columbia has inaugurated what is described as Canada’s first university-affiliated licensed, pharmacist-staffed care clinic. Patients can book hour-long appointments for in-person, telephone or even Skype consultations about prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements and natural health products — and how to address side effects and complications.

What makes this service different is that it doesn’t deal directly with medications at all. There are no drugs on the premises. Instead, its sole offering is advice (including reports to patients’ doctors) and its operations are geared to delivering that in a way that suits its patients — effectively complementing traditional dispensary functions in a way that will be increasingly important to Canadians dealing with chronic conditions.  

As in many other parts of our daily lives, technology can also be expected to play a growing role in tomorrow’s neighbourhood pharmacies. Many pharmacy chains now offer mobile apps that allow patients to view flyers and special offers, create shopping lists and manage their prescriptions online. There’s also exploding interest in mobile health and electronic medical record (EMR) apps.

Technology companies, Apple among them, are developing mobile apps to track basic health stats — like weight and blood pressure, fitness, lab test results, nutrition, sleep and medications.

These apps are able to record and maintain notes on medical conditions, emergency contacts, allergies and more, all with the goal of creating and maintaining a sophisticated and secure medical record with significant information resources that could be made available to healthcare professionals — with the owner’s permission — when needed.

And, as if all this weren’t enough, even more future technology will be ‘wearable,’ in the form of watches equipped with sensors that will actively monitor some of your body’s functions and report on your performance to your smartphone.

Whether you’re dealing with your neighbourhood pharmacist in person, in the pharmacy, on the phone, or over the internet, the neighbourhood pharmacist will remain your trusted, friendly healthcare advisor, whose primary focus will always be your health and wellbeing.