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Avoid use of the term “free” when advertising pharmacy services

April 2, 2024
Pharmacy brochures with pharmacy professional working in the background.
Describing services as free may have unintended repercussions.

ACP discourages pharmacy teams from using the term “free” in their promotion and advertising of pharmacy services including, but not limited to

  • publicly funded immunizations such as influenza and COVID,
  • comprehensive annual care plans (CACP),
  • standard medication management assessments (SMMA), and
  • prescribing services.

The term “free” is frequently used in advertising, promotions, news stories, and in casual conversations about the pharmacy services above. While a patient doesn’t have to pay “out of pocket” to receive these services, describing them as being “free” can have unintended repercussions.

What’s wrong with using “free?”

First, it may violate the Pharmacy and Drug Regulation (PDR). Section 24(1)(a) of the PDR states: “A licensee and a proprietor must ensure that advertising in relation to a licensed pharmacy is not false or misleading.” Advertising these services as free may also violate section 102 of the Health Professions Act, which states, “A regulated member shall not engage in advertising that is untruthful, inaccurate or otherwise capable of misleading or misinforming the public.”

If a third party (e.g., Alberta Health) is paying for the service, it is not free, and patients should be aware that there is a cost. 

Advertising or promoting these services as free potentially undermines the integrity of the profession and may devalue the professional expertise regulated members provide. Section 24(1)(c) of the PDR outlines that a licensee and a proprietor must ensure that advertising in relation to a licensed pharmacy does not undermine the honour or integrity of the pharmacy profession. Pharmacy services such as immunizations, prescribing, care plans, dispensing, compounding, and medication management assessments involve pharmacy professionals’

  • skills in assessment;
  • technical expertise;
  • knowledge of medications, potential interactions, and drug therapy problems; and
  • time to review and interpret appropriate information (e.g., Netcare, lab results), document the information, and collaborate with other members of the patient’s health team.

Additionally, advertising that third party covered services provided at your pharmacy are “free” may inadvertently suggest that the same services are not “free” at another pharmacy. This form of advertising may also be misleading to the public and harm the integrity of the profession.

Pharmacy teams must ensure that advertisements and promotions outlining their services are accurate and not misleading for the public and must uphold the integrity of the pharmacy profession.