Ontario regulator considers legal options to address allegations of corporate pressure on pharmacies | CBC News

The Ontario College of Pharmacists says it is working with a legal team to consider its options after thousands of pharmacy employees came forward to tell “deeply disturbing” stories about pressure from companies to provide paid services – sometimes at a cost of patient care.

In a rare statement Monday, registrar Shenda Tanchak said the college “will consider all resources available to us to address these concerns.”

“We’ve heard that volume-driven corporate pressures lead to suboptimal care and a higher risk of errors,” Tanchak said.

“And we hear that these pressures are impacting the well-being of pharmacists, who fear or experience retaliation if they don’t meet organizational goals.”

“We find this extremely worrying. We cannot stand by and allow business practices to interfere with the delivery of safe and effective patient care.”

The opinion comes after almost 1,300 college pharmacy staff recently gave “compelling” and “deeply worrying” information about the extent of “corporate-centric” pressure in a series of virtual town halls. Almost 4,000 pharmacy professionals also submitted written contributions to an anonymous survey.

The college invited pharmacists to raise their concerns at a board meeting after CBC News published its investigation into Shoppers Drug Mart employees who said they were being pressured into billing for unnecessary medication reviews under Ontario’s MedsCheck program , which reimburses pharmacies up to $75 for calling patients to go over their prescriptions.

Jeff Leger, president of Shoppers Drug Mart, said in an interview at the time that the company did not pressure its employees to complete MedsChecks and that there were no “targets or similar elements.”

Employees later disputed the claim by providing CBC with documentation confirming the existence of targets.

VIEW | Emails and internal records from Shoppers Drug Mart employees show pressure:

Former Shoppers Pharmacy employees say the company pushed unnecessary drug reviews

CBC News spoke with former Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy employees who believe the company is exploiting Ontario’s MedsCheck program and pushing employees to bill for medication reviews that patients don’t necessarily need.

Employees choose between their job or their patients, says one worker

The Ontario College of Pharmacists oversees the province’s pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to ensure they adhere to legal and ethical standards. It also regulates pharmacies and requires them to comply with operational standards.

On Monday, the regulator said it had heard firsthand from pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who attended town hall meetings held in recent weeks. One employee said: “The time and quota pressures make you feel like you have to choose between patient safety and keeping your job,” while another said staff were afraid of losing their jobs if they complained.

Employees said the pressure came primarily from those in “corporate/regional/central office roles” and provided “many specific examples,” according to a college presentation shared with CBC detailing the comments made were summarized.

Workers also said the emphasis on volume “leads to errors and mistakes.” [and] increased risks to patient safety.”

VIEW | Former Shoppers Pharmacy employees believe the company is taking advantage of the Ontario program:

More and more pharmacists are accusing buyers of “unethical” goals in medical care

Dozens of current and former Shoppers Drug Mart owners and pharmacists say company management pressured them to meet “unethical” targets for unnecessary medical services. Emails and internal records from buyers provided to CBC News support that claim.

The vast majority of pharmacists who responded to the college’s anonymous survey said they had experienced pressure at Shoppers Drug Mart or another Loblaw pharmacy, with the third-highest number of reports coming from those who had worked at Rexall.

In an earlier statement, Loblaw said it stood by Leger’s comments that the company does not use targets or pressure employees.

Loblaw said it is increasing mandatory training for its field and store employees on the appropriate use of pharmacy metrics based on recent feedback from pharmacists, Catherine Thomas, vice president of communications, said in a statement earlier this month.

A Rexall representative previously said it would “under no circumstances … promote the provision of clinical services that are not in the best interest of the patient.”

Based on feedback from pharmacy professionals, the college said the pressure to carry out MedsChecks was a “symptom of a larger problem”.

Pharmacists said they have also been pushed to limit the time they have to spend assessing minor ailments or consulting with patients about health conditions that can be treated with minimal treatment, such as acne or urinary tract infections. Workers also said they were under pressure to give up naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdose.

These services, like MedsChecks, are free to the public.

The college said its options to address the issue would “certainly” include appointing investigators to look into “corporate-centric” interference with pharmacists’ independence.

“OCP will not tolerate any business practices that interfere with the ability of pharmacists and registered pharmacy technicians to provide safe and effective care to their patients,” Tanchak’s statement said.

Last month, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the ministry would conduct its “due diligence” to ensure the MedsCheck program was being used properly.

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