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Easy access to a pharmacist is more important than you think

August 10, 2021
By Jeff Boutilier

Virtual pharmacists are particularly helpful for employees who may not have the flexibility to visit a retail pharmacy during typical business hours. (charactervectorart/AdobeStock)

As employees return to their workplaces and fill their social calendars with activities and engagements, providing workers with convenient and private access to frontline health care providers, such as a pharmacist, is critical to maintaining a healthy workplace.

Over the past year and a half, COVID-19 upended our daily lives, leaving a monumental mark on the world’s health and economy. Among its massive impacts, the pandemic created an unprecedented shift in the well-being of employees that is perhaps only now beginning to be felt.

Beyond the effects experienced by those directly stricken with the virus, COVID-19 compromised the mental and emotional well-being of countless others as people coped with new ways of living, working and connecting with others, including and, perhaps most notably, the way they access health-care services.

According to data published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), during the pandemic physicians provided 52 per cent of care virtually, chiefly online or by telephone. CIHI numbers further indicate that it’s likely that many people didn’t seek care when they may have needed to.


Data released by Express Scripts Canada in March 2021 brought a new dimension to this trend by identifying a massive anticipated backlog of Canadians who may seek treatment for undiagnosed conditions this year and beyond. These research findings include an estimated 100,000 people expected to seek treatment for common conditions like depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

This backlog is due, in part, to public health lockdowns as well as societal fear of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Regardless of the motivating factors, however, this population-wide reluctance to visit doctors for regular checkups and follow up appointments led to a decline in diagnoses.

This latter trend is particularly concerning because in most cases, identifying and treating illness early on tends to improve health outcomes by curbing disease progression and related consequences. In the case of heart health, for example, medical and pharmaceutical intervention can help reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.

The risks associated with this recent public hesitancy to seek medical care not only reinforces the importance of health-care accessibility, it also illuminates the rising complications as employees resume social activities and begin returning to workplaces.

Fortunately, pharmacists were among the frontline health-care workers who served throughout the pandemic and will continue their vital role going forward. In fact, a recent national survey by Abacus Data, showed that 92 per cent of Canadians believe pharmacists play an essential or important role in Canada’s health-care system.

Enhancing employee access to health-care professionals, including pharmacists, is one way employers can help workers navigate this next phase of the post-pandemic journey and keep workplaces healthy. In fact, working with a pharmacy partner that offers 24/7 year-round access to a pharmacist from the privacy of the employee’s own home or another preferred location brings added benefits.

For example, such convenience is particularly helpful for employees who may not have the flexibility to visit a retail pharmacy during typical business hours.

Employees can also benefit from a pharmacy that delivers medication right to the employee’s door, a modality proven to help patients adhere to prescribed medication regimes and stay well.

As employers reimagine workplaces, benefits plans and the importance of employee health in the post-COVID world, providing employees with ready access to modern health care could be just the preventative medicine needed to help keep employees and businesses healthy.

Jeff Boutilier is general manager pharmacy and chief clinical officer at Express Scripts Canada and is responsible for the management and direction of pharmacy across the country.

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