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Greater role for pharamacists could yield big health care savings: study

Greater role for pharamacists could yield big health care savings: study

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Canada's major drugstore chains say they can help save provinces up to $11-billion over three years, partly by allowing giving their pharmacists to treat minor illnesses, administer vaccines and manage chronic conditions.

While provinces have moved to varying degrees in these areas, more can be done that could result in better health outcomes for patients and urgently needed government savings, they say.

"Government sees the value and they're beginning to go in that direction," Frank Scorpiniti, chief executive of Rexall Pharma Plus, said in an interview.

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The report, entitled 9,000 Points of Care: Improving Access to Affordable Healthcare, comes as drugstores suffer financially from generic drug reforms which force them to slash prices, hitting the bottom line and putting pressure on them to cut costs.

The report was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, the latter representing generic drug companies.

Domenic Pilla, chief executive officer of Shoppers Drug Mart Corp., the country's largest chain, said the latest recommendations are not about the business, per se, but rather improving patient outcomes.

"We'll all benefit as individuals and as businesses from healthier Canadians in a more sustainable health care system," he said in an interview.

Already the introduction of generic drugs to replace pricier brand-name medications has resulted in $15-billion of savings between 2009 and 2011, the groups say. It was also a period of major patents expiring on high-volume name-brand drugs like Lipitor.

"There is an additional opportunity that we're not capturing," Mr. Pilla said.

In the U.S., about 80 per cent of drugs used are cheaper generics, while in Canada that rate is just 63 per cent, he noted.

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But beyond generics, drugstores need to work more closely with health insurers, governments, physicians, hospitals, other drug makers and health care providers, he said. Already they have started to work together in the past few months, he added.

"Industries are coming together to propose a common solution to the government," he said. "They are listening. We just want them to go faster."

The collaborative effort – generic drug maker Apotex Corp. participated in presenting the report on Wednesday – is in stark contrast to a few years ago when Ontario first introduced dramatic generic drug reforms.

The then Shoppers CEO openly criticized the government's reforms and threatened to withdraw pharmacist services and cut back pharmacy hours.

Today, Mr. Pilla and his cohorts are looking for a more conciliatory approach to finding solutions to rising health care expenses.

"We have the opportunity to get tangible savings," said Jeff Watson, president of Apotex.

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Shoppers and Rexall, owned by Edmonton-based Katz Group, also have pushed to roll out their own private-label generic drugs in a bid to shave costs.

To achieve savings of between $8.5– and $11-billion, the report also recommends:

– ensuring affordable access to key medications by creating policies that encourage lower cost alternative therapies;

– helping patients manage chronic conditions more effectively to improve quality of life and keep patients out of critical care;

– leveraging the pharmaceutical distribution model by building state-of-the art emergency preparedness and pandemic response systems;

– further preventing adverse drug reactions by focusing on information sharing, user-friendly e-health systems and connectivity with health-care practitioners.

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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