Supporting Innovation in Pharmacy for a Healthier Canada

Embracing Change: Health-e Choice Pharmacy, NF

March 2019 - Wth the right mix of pharmacy services, independent pharmacies can thrive among big chain competition. Or at least that’s what Health-e Choice Pharmacy is proving in Clarenville, NF. 

Locally owned and operated by three pharmacists, Healh-e Choice opened in January 2017 and now services 15 different communities within a 50-100 km radius. “We were the seventh pharmacy in town by the time we opened and by six months we were already off to a great start and doing better than we expected,” says former hospital pharmacist Tanya Spurrell who co-founded the business with community pharmacists Todd and Bernadine Barrett. 

Spurrell says the whole concept for Health-e Choice happened serendipitously. “All three of us were pharmacists from the community at the time looking to go back to practising pharmacy like we always wanted to—with more time and services for patients so we could use our knowledge base more fully.” The trio found a piece of land and four local physicians who were willing to collaborate with them, and had a building constructed. The pharmacy is the centre and the physician’s offices are attached on either side within the building. “Having physicians here has been wonderful for providing superior patient care,” says Spurrell. “We talk to them daily to sort out patient issues.”

Embracing an expanded scope of practice has also been an essential part of bringing the Health-e Choice Pharmacy vision to fruition, says Spurrell. All three pharmacists are certified to do injections and extended prescribing, and conduct medication reviews and care plans on a regular basis. Blister packaging is also popular and last summer, the pharmacy acquired the exclusive contract to provide blister pack services to a local nursing home.

While billing is still a challenge given the lack of public funding for numerous pharmacy services in Newfoundland, Spurrell says she and her team have figured out strategies to make it work. For example, patients are billed directly (and willingly pay) for services like flu shots, travel vaccines and med reviews that are sometimes reimbursed by their benefits providers. The pharmacy will provide some free services for those without insurance, but will make sure there is always enough staff on site so patients get the time needed without it disrupting the flow of the dispensary. 

Having sufficient staff in store at all times also means Health-e Choice can compete with the big chains on prescription wait times. “Our turnaround time for scripts is never more than half an hour, and usually more like five to 10 minutes,” says Spurrell. “Even when they can’t pay for services, we know we’ve helped the patient and they’ll be a returning customer.” 

In the foreseeable future, Spurrell hopes to introduce point-of-care testing among other pharmacy services. They recently added to their team by hiring a fourth pharmacist too. 

In 2017, Health-e Choice was also the lucky recipient of the Pharmacy Management in Canada textbook, produced by CFP. “We had just opened around that time so it came in handy,” says Spurrell. “We still have it on our shelves.”