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Duty to inform patients of publicly-funded medications and services

December 11, 2019
Pharmacy professionals must help patients make informed decisions about their care.

There are various universal, publicly funded programs that provide medication or services to Albertans at no cost to them. This includes programs such as the Community-Based Naloxone Program, the Alberta Influenza Immunization Program, and the Specialized High Cost Drug Program that covers high-cost antiretrovirals for HIV. 

Often there may be alternative treatments available to individuals that are not covered by a publicly funded, provincial program, such as Narcan® nasal spray. In other cases, individuals may have alternative coverage that pays for medications or services covered by the provincial program.  An example is when an individual requires an HIV medication. HIV medications are provided through the provincial Specialized High Cost Drug Program and are provided at no charge to qualifying patients. In such a case it would not be appropriate to transfer the patient’s care to a pharmacy that did not provide access to the Specialized High Cost Drug Program in order to make use of other benefits. 

Pharmacists have a responsibility under the ACP Code of Ethics (COE) to provide each patient with any information that the patient needs to make informed decisions about their health and health care, and to discuss that information with the patient (Principle 2, Statement 3). This includes ensuring patients understand when there are publicly funded options available.

Pharmacists should also consider that Principle 1 of the COE requires a pharmacist or pharmacy technician to always hold the well-being of their patient to be their primary consideration. In many cases the program, such as the Northern Alberta Program (NAP) and Southern Alberta Clinic (SAC) for HIV medications, offers individuals a level of additional support, multi-disciplinary collaboration, and population tracking that a community pharmacy simply could not provide. 

Take time to familiarize yourself with the various programs available to Albertans through Alberta Health and ensure that your patient is fully informed of their options before offering them any related medication or services outside of these programs.