Christine Karen Branden
​(L to R), Christine Tse, Karen Watpool and Brandon Wu work in Toronto Western Hospital's Pharmacy Department where they support patients by prescribing for minor ailments. (Photo: UHN)

Minor ailments, such as acne, cold sores, tick bites and acid reflux, are short-term health conditions that can be managed with minimal treatments and self-care strategies. Assessment of them typically does not require blood work monitoring and there's low risk they mask underlying health conditions.

With that in mind and an eye to easing the burden on Emergency Departments and walk-in clinics, the Ontario government last year expanded the powers of pharmacists to prescribe medication for minor ailments – and UHN pharmacists are seeing a positive impact on their work as well as patients.

"Being able to initiate and manage drug therapy for minor ailments has expanded our scope of practice, as we can now apply our training and clinical knowledge to take on a greater role in improving health outcomes," says Christine Tse, Outpatient Pharmacy Manager at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH).

In January 2023, the Ontario government gave pharmacists the authority to prescribe medication for 13 minor ailments. That number was expanded to 19 in October.

As many people are without a family physician and long wait times are common at walk-in clinics, wider prescribing power has proven to be time-saving and convenient for the pharmacy team and patients.

As community pharmacists, Brandon Wu, Outpatient Pharmacy Operations Coordinator at TWH, says his team has always had the ability to assess patients and decide whether drug therapy is appropriate.

Before the new legislation, pharmacists would make the assessment, follow up with recommendations to a doctor and wait for approval before the patient could get the prescribed care. Now, the expanded scope of practice means patients receive timelier access to care and an improved experience.

Recently, Brandon had a patient coming in to pick up other medications at the pharmacy also present with signs of conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as "pink eye." Rather than having them wait a few days to get an appointment with their family doctor, Brandon was able to complete an assessment in 10 minutes, and offer a new prescription and self-care strategies on the spot.

'Patients are much more aware of what pharmacists can do'

"When we called to follow up with the patient two days later they were extremely grateful to have the issue resolved," Brandon says. “They have a busy family life and weren't sure when they could get an appointment with their doctor."

Karen Watpool, an outpatient pharmacist at TWH, who has been at UHN since 2005, says “the ability to prescribe has definitely raised public awareness of the scope of our profession.

"By prescribing for minor ailments, we're much more in the forefront, and patients are much more aware of what pharmacists can do," Karen says.

Karen also says some patients who are assessed for minor ailments already know their symptoms well enough to determine what they are experiencing. For example, she says, if a patient wakes up with a cold sore and doesn't have refills on their medications, it's much easier for them to make an appointment with the pharmacist for an assessment of treatment options rather wait for a doctor's appointment.

All pharmacists who prescribe for minor ailments are trained to assess patients for any potential "red flags" that require referral to a physician for further assessment. They also undergo a mandatory orientation module distributed by the Ontario College of Pharmacists to ensure they understand the ethical, legal and professional obligations of prescribing for minor ailments.

Pharmacists at UHN also stay current with their clinical knowledge and expertise through access to a comprehensive set of drug information and decision-making support resources, which ensure they are asking the right questions and identifying critical symptoms.

Learn more by visiting Minor Ailments -

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