4 Major Tips for Pharmacists Prescribing for Minor Ailments

December 29, 2022

Getting a cold sore? Your pharmacist can help with that. UTI? Get antibiotics from your pharmacist. What about allergies? Yup, your pharmacist can treat that too.

In some provinces, pharmacists have been hearing these phrases for nearly a decade. For others, this kind of talk is not so common - at least not yet.  In Ontario, pharmacists are just joining the ranks of minor ailment prescribers effective January 2023. After that, it is expected British Columbia will become the tenth and final province to authorize this expanded scope of practice in the spring of 2023.  

So to the pharmacists in these provinces, let us ask you this:  how are you feeling about adding this responsibility to your daily workflow? Are you excited, nervous, or anxious? A 2019 University of Waterloo study found that one-third of non-urgent emergency room visits could potentially be managed by pharmacists with expanded scope of practice1. It is clear that pharmacists have a large role to play in the healthcare system. Furthermore, it is already proven we can do this well as demonstrated in other provinces who have been prescribing for self-care conditions for many years.

To prepare you for a successful roll out of minor ailments prescribing, here are some tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to use your resources.

Nobody expects you to know everything there is to know about minor ailments and their treatment options. Don’t be afraid to say to your patient, “Give me a few minutes. I just want to check a few things to make sure I’m not missing anything.” Most patients appreciate when you take the time to research an accurate answer. Just make sure you know where to find the information you need. Keep your go-to resources handy on your desktop or mobile device so you're prepared for patient questions.

  1. Set patient expectations 

It’s important to set realistic expectations for patients, and this includes communicating that a prescription is not guaranteed after an assessment. For example, if a patient phones ahead to book a GERD assessment, you can inquire about alarm features, such as unexplained weight loss or pain upon swallowing. If they pass your initial screening, you will still need to tell your patient that the assessment is more in depth than a few questions. Communicate that you need to assess their symptoms fully before determining the appropriate course of action.  Also ensure your staff understands how to clearly explain the process to patients. In a busy environment, it may be useful to have posters or handouts to outline how a minor ailment consultation works and usual wait times. 


 It's important to remember that the value of a minor ailment assessment goes beyond just prescribing medication. Whether you recommend an OTC treatment or refer to a physician, these assessments are opportunities to educate your patients. Someone may not walk away with a prescription but they will be more than happy with the assessment if they learned about lifestyle modifications or red flags. When promoting these services, highlight the value of the assessment itself and not just the potential for prescribing. 

  1. Incorporate patient assessments into your workflow

We understand that you are juggling multiple tasks with a long line of patients waiting for prescriptions. So when a patient approaches your counter asking if you can treat their UTI, you don’t need to jump into action immediately. Utilize a system for adding this service into your workflow. 

For patients that walk into your pharmacy, it is entirely reasonable to give them a wait time before they sit down with the pharmacist. Most patients will expect this, as instant assessments aren’t available in their doctor’s office either.  You can align the wait time with the current wait time for urgent prescriptions to be filled, or use a digital booking system for both walk-in and online bookings. Whatever system you choose, get your staff and patients on board so this becomes a system of behavioural change. Communication is key, which brings us to our next point…

  1. Keep your patients in the know!

Once you are feeling more prepared for minor ailments, focus on whether or not your patients know you can help them. We are so inundated with the preparation for our expanded scope of practice that it becomes easy to forget that our patients don’t always pay attention to what’s new in our world. So let your patients know that you can help assess and treat their minor ailments!

Advertise your ability to assess and treat minor ailments. You can do this using posters and flyers. You can also advertise on your pharmacy website and social media account.  If you are utilizing a scheduling system, provide clear instructions on how patients can book with you on these advertisements.

So we ask you again, how do you feel about prescribing for minor ailments? It’s okay if you still have mixed feelings. Just know that most pharmacists felt the exact same way when prescribing for minor ailments was launched in their respective provinces. These pharmacists understand the stress and uncertainty you may feel.  They also can reassure you that once you conduct a few assessments, those jitters are likely to go away. 

 If you are still feeling unsure, MedEssist can help. Our platform offers a streamlined workflow with built-in clinical tools and the ability to generate your care plan, prescription, primary care notification, and follow ups- all in one place! Our unique intake system allows you to handle walk-ins or schedule appointments with ease. We also make it a breeze for you to market your minor ailments with posters, QR codes, and a digital patient portal. Whether you are new to minor ailments prescribing or a veteran, reach out to us if you want to learn more!

1. Alsabbagh, M. et al. 2019, ‘The proportion, conditions, and predictors of emergency department visits that can be potentially managed by pharmacists with expanded scope of practice’, Research in Social and administrative Pharmacy, 15(11), pp. 1289-1297.

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