Sicamous and other rural B.C. communities are at risk of losing pharmacy services due to proposed changes around telepharmacy operations.
Eagle Valley IDA pharmacist Jeff Primeau was successful in his request to District of Sicamous council to write a letter of opposition to a legislation change being proposed by the B.C. College of Pharmacists. The change would require a certified pharmacy technician be on hand for telepharmacy service.
Mayor Terry Rysz supported the request, noting he doesn’t wish to see any employee in the community lose their job. This, according to Primeau, is one possible outcome for Sicamous and other communities that use telepharmacy.
“We don’t employ a certified pharmacy technician, we only have pharmacy assistants, and in Sicamous they do the job quite well,” explained Primeau. “We train them ourselves, we don’t need to have a certified pharmacy tech. If we were required to hire a certified pharmacy tech, we probably wouldn’t be able to get one in Sicamous… Also, if we were to hire a certified pharmacy tech, that would probably take a job away from one of my pharmacy assistants. I don’t want that.”
The Sicamous pharmacy has utilized a telepharmacy service with pharmacy assistants for about eight years now. (And without incident, notes Primeau.) This on-site videoconferencing technology allows a pharmacist in a central location – in this case Munro’s Sorrento Prescriptions in Sorrento – to be present at a remote pharmacy location via monitor. That pharmacist is available to customers to answer questions, check on drug interactions – everything one would expect from an on-site pharmacist.
This system has allowed the Sicamous pharmacy, as well as pharmacies in Barriere, Logan Lake, Valemount and McBride (all under the same ownership) to provide full pharmacy services on days when the local pharmacist isn’t on duty.
The change that requires a certified technician be on duty, rather than an assistant, has to do with a legitimization of the term “pharmacy technician,” says Primeau.
“Where the confusion started was when pharmacy techs started to be certified, because five, 10 years ago, anybody that worked in the pharmacy department that wasn’t a pharmacist was called a pharmacy technician,” explained Primeau. “Now, to be called a pharmacy technician, you need to have the training, you have to have the certificate, you have to pay your professional registration to the College of Pharmacists.”
Pharmacy assistants, Primeau adds, are under direct supervision of the pharmacist who takes assumes all legal responsibility for filling any prescription or talking to any patient.
“It’s not like more schooling on the technician’s part is increasing pharmacy care or improving outcomes with the patient,” said Primeau. “It’s all still the pharmacist’s responsibility.”
In addition, Primeau says the proposed change hasn’t taken into account such things as rural demographics and staffing, and how unlikely it is a certified pharmacy tech can be found who will want to work weekends and holidays in rural communities.
“We don’t have oodles of pharmacy technicians, certified ones, handing in resumes and wanting to live in Sicamous. It’s not happening,” said Primeau. “That’s why we’re kind of stuck. Especially when you take into account the pharmacy staff working here now do an exceptional job.”
After his presentation to council, Primeau learned the deadline before the proposed change comes into effect has been extended by a year.