13 conditions Ontario pharmacists can now treat

February 13, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

Pavithra Ravi is a practicing pharmacist and teaches at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy. She is also Director, Strategy and Key Accounts, for Manulife Group Benefits.

The province of Ontario has given pharmacists the authority to prescribe medication for 13 specific minor ailments or illnesses, as of January 1, 2023.1 This is a big step forward in allowing access to care for Ontario residents. It could provide more convenience for your members and more productivity for your organization.

What is a minor ailment?

You might wonder exactly what a minor ailment is. Generally, these are conditions that can be self-limiting (resolve on its own) and be reasonably self-diagnosed. Most of the time these conditions can be managed with minimal treatments or self-care strategies. And lab tests are not usually needed to prescribe medication for these minor ailments.1

What can Ontario pharmacists now prescribe for?

Ontario pharmacists are now prescribing for minor ailments that include:2

  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
  • Oral thrush (candidal stomatitis)
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis: bacterial, allergic and viral)
  • Dermatitis (atopic, eczema, allergic and contact)
  • Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea)
  • Acid reflux (Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD)
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Cold sores (Herpes labialis)
  • Impetigo
  • Insect bites and hives
  • Tick bites (post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease)
  • Musculoskeletal sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections (uncomplicated)

Why make the change to allowing minor ailment assessments?

The concept of pharmacists prescribing is not new and has existed in other provinces, such as Alberta, for several years.3 This new expanded scope for what pharmacists can prescribe in Ontario allows for better access to all people in the province while providing improved patient care.

The Ontario government expects the change to make health care more convenient for most residents. The government says the majority of Ontario residents live within five kilometres of a pharmacy, which makes them one the most-accessible health care touchpoints within the broader health system.2

The change was made in partnership with the Ontario College of Pharmacists, and there are more potential benefits to the wider health care system. Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association said, “It reduces demand on hospitals, emergency departments, walk-in clinics, and family physicians. It also frees up time for our healthcare partners, allowing doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers to focus on more complex care cases.”4

Benefits for you and your members

These may be minor ailments, but they still have an impact on your employees. These illnesses likely reduce employee productivity if they work through the ailment (presenteeism). Or employees may have missed work completely to seek treatment at a clinic (absenteeism).

The average Canadian worker is losing 41 days a year due to absences and presenteeism, according to Manulife’s 2021 Wellness Report.5 Quicker access to care and treatments could prevent small ailments progressing into complicated conditions and could reduce some of that productivity loss.

Let your members know that pharmacists can now prescribe medications for these minor ailments so they can take advantage of the change.

Frequently asked questions

No, patients only require their Ontario health card to access this pharmacy service funded by the Ministry of Health. If a pharmacist issues a prescription to treat the minor ailment, there may be costs or fees associated with dispensing, like prescriptions provided by a physician or nurse practitioner.6

Minor ailments are health conditions that can be managed with minimal treatment and/or self-care strategies, and lab results are not usually required. These conditions are usually short-term, have a low risk of treatment masking underlying conditions, and only require minimal or short-term follow-up. Additionally, the pharmacist’s assessment of the patient would help determine any medication or medical history red flags that could suggest a more serious condition. If, in their judgment, lab tests were required, the patient could be referred to a primary care provider.6

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