While previously ignored by industry experts, pharmacies are poised to play a more significant role in the healthcare sector due to a variety of emerging trends.
Pharmacies in Canada are poised to occupy a larger space in the overall healthcare landscape, blurring the previously well-defined responsibilities of primary and secondary healthcare providers.
Pharmacists have traditionally played a significant role in Canada’s healthcare market. Patients go to their primary healthcare providers while pharmacists dispense medications, occupying a secondary, supporting role in the medical sector. However, a changing landscape in the healthcare industry is promising to transform pharmacies into larger, more holistic community healthcare providers.
The growing availability of medical information online has also encouraged average people to take a more proactive role in their own health, researching their symptoms and educating themselves on potential remedies. In this way, pharmacies are well positioned to fill a growing hybrid role in the industry, providing expanding services to the community in addition to just dispensing medications. For many companies in the healthcare industry, this increasing push for pharmacies to adopt a more significant role in the Canadian medical sector could drive demand and lead to a point of care (PoC) technology explosion.
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Pharmacies in Canada
The healthcare landscape in Canada has been shifting over recent years as readily available information online has changed how patients handle their health. Instead of being limited to a doctor’s input, people are now more empowered and informed than ever before with patients now receiving healthcare advice from an increasing number of sources. A study by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission found that 90 percent of Canadian respondents had researched health information online over the past 12 months. Back in 2010, that figure was only 64 percent.
Amongst older Canadians, nearly all respondents trusted their family doctors for advice, while only 44 percent trusted information found online. At the same time, younger Canadians are moving heavily towards online sources of information when making their healthcare decisions, trusting these online sources more than their older counterparts.
Pharmacists are also seeing an increase in patient trust, with around four in 10 Canadians having consulted their pharmacists on health issues within the previous year, ranking second behind physicians as Canada’s most preferred source of medical information.
While patient attitudes towards alternative sources of medical information have changed, so too has the academic debate concerning the role of pharmacists in the healthcare system. In 2016, a trial conducted at the University of Alberta found pharmacists outperformed physicians in diagnosing and treating patients with dyslipidemia alongside those with poorly controlled LDL cholesterol levels.
With growing evidence indicating that there’s much to be gained by expanding pharmacists’ responsibilities, a number of provinces have increased the role these professionals play in treating their patients. In Quebec, pharmacists are able to re-prescribe medications previously issued by physicians, while Alberta has gone one step further by giving pharmacists the ability to prescribe for a wide range of chronic conditions previously restricted to doctors.
The market size of the pharmacy sector
As Canadians continue to accept pharmacists as trusted members of the medical community, the importance of pharmacies in the medical industry could grow significantly. Currently, the community pharmacy sector generates C$16 billion annually and provides 250,000 jobs in the country, according to the Conference Board of Canada.
“Community pharmacies provide health services to Canadians in a convenient retail setting, which contributes to improved individual and population health and creates efficiencies for the broader health care system,” said Thy Dinh, then director of health economics and policy with the Conference Board of Canada. “Beyond that, community pharmacy makes significant contributions to Canada’s services sector supporting a substantial number of jobs and economic activity.”
Companies like CB2 Insights (CSE:CBII) have partnered with medical clinics in order to integrate more advanced decision making into the medical community. The company has partnered with Premier Health Group (CSE:PHGI) in order to provide physicians with the company’s Clinical Decision Support tool, which was designed to help healthcare providers integrate medical cannabis into a patient’s treatment plans.
As pharmacies and clinics are empowered with more effective medical options, patients across Canada could gain access to new diagnostic technologies that were previously out of reach.
The emergence of PoC technologies
PoC technology refers to a variety of devices and systems that support healthcare workers in their daily responsibilities of monitoring patients, documenting their progress and caring for them. Already, PoC technologies are expected to become a cornerstone in hospital IT systems and doctors’ offices, but pharmacies could present a similar opportunity.
Most pharmacies today offer a built-in blood pressure system for patients. While this is a simple form of PoC technology, it only scratches the surface of what is possible. Technology has advanced to the point where pharmacies can start assessing laboratory tests through various point-of-care testing kits. Pharmacies have been early adopters of some of the earliest versions of these kits, offering pregnancy testing services to women outside of the doctor’s office. Today, a wide variety of tests can be conducted, helping lower the burden placed on provincial laboratory services while letting patients bypass physicians who otherwise would have to prescribe these tests.
The possibilities are endless with several innovative PoC products already entering the market. One particular solution, Spartan Bioscience’s Spartan Cube, is known as the world’s smallest molecular diagnostics device. The unit is able to screen for a variety of tests but focuses on the detection of a rare condition called Legionnaires’ disease. In the US, around 18,000 people are hospitalized every year with Legionnaires’ disease, a rare yet severe form of pneumonia with a 10 percent mortality rate. As bacteria can reach outbreak levels rapidly, quick testing is essential to prevent the condition from spreading. While most tests take 14 days to yield a result, the Spartan Cube can offer a result in 45 minutes.
Niche solutions such as the Spartan Cube could have a massive impact on the medical industry, proving PoC solutions are capable of improving both testing and diagnostics. Another company working in the PoC media space, Avricore Health (TSXV:AVCR), is focused on providing healthcare technology in the nutraceutical, endocannabinoid and medical cannabis spaces. The company’s proprietary HealthTab technology allows patients to directly measure and monitor 21 key biomarkers in chronic disease through various blood tests. Avricore Health charges around C$350 to install this technology, alongside a monthly fee for using the equipment. Around 30 pharmacies are expected to adopt the technology in Ontario, with another 200 estimated within the next 18 months. By providing additional options for patients, companies like Avricore are helping to empower physicians, pharmacists and patients at all levels of the medical system.
As community pharmacies begin to play an increasingly important role in the future of Canada’s healthcare industry, PoC solutions could offer a new opportunity for health technology companies. With various trends indicating that pharmacies are becoming increasingly popular as alternative healthcare solution providers, companies catering to this sector could be well positioned to grow over the coming years.
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