Shot of a dedicated mature male pharmacist giving a customer prescription meds over the counter

The role of pharmacists has evolved in bold new directions. They are an integral part of the overall healthcare picture in Canada, providing support and resources to the people in their communities.

One of the challenges for pharmacists is identifying a family member or friend providing unpaid care to a loved one with a physical, cognitive or mental health condition, says Michael Boivin, a pharmacy consultant based in Barrie, Ont. “According to research from Teva Canada and Huddol [an online community that connects caregivers to peer and  expert guidance], many of these individuals don’t see themselves as caregivers,” he says. “They’ll say, ‘I’m just a daughter who’s helping out my parents,’ or ‘I’m a spouse. It’s part of my job.’ There’s a huge opportunity if pharmacists can find out who the caregivers are and understand their struggles. Many people don’t realize the full range of services available.”

Michael Boivin

For pharmacists, filling that need offers rewards. “First and foremost, it can help them provide better individual care,” explains Boivin. “If you develop a relationship with a caregiver, you’re not just supporting that person. You are supporting extended family. It opens the door to building loyalty and being able to offer a variety
of resources.”

With the aging of the Canadian population, demands on community-based services will increase and pharmacists will play an even more prominent role on an individual’s healthcare team. In 2014, more than six million Canadians were aged 65 and over, representing 15.6 per cent of the country. By 2030, that number will jump to more than 9.5 million, or 23 per cent of the total population. They will also have longer life expectancies, according to the federal government’s Action for Seniors report, published in 2014.

“As a result, the number of caregivers who are helping out will continue to grow,” points out Boivin, also a caregiver to his 22-year-old autistic daughter. “That means it’s a no-lose strategy for pharmacists when they are able to engage and support them. There are good days and bad days for caregivers. If on one of those bad days you can be a pharmacist who is there for them, it makes a big difference to [provide] that comfort.”

Iris Krawchenko, a consultant and clinical pharmacist with the Hamilton Family Health Team in Hamilton, Ont., agrees. She sees Canada’s 10,000-plus pharmacies becoming indispensable healthcare hubs for the communities they serve. “A pharmacist is one of the most accessible healthcare professionals in the system,” she says.

“We’re open later hours and often seven days a week – longer than other healthcare facilities,” she adds. “We are very accessible. If you build on that, scope of practice for pharmacists will continue to evolve, change and broaden.”

Iris Krawchenko

Today’s pharmacists can offer much more than just information about medications, she points out. They can talk to caregivers about the medical conditions the medicines are designed to treat. They can also address disease prevention and promote wellness. “In pharmacists, caregivers have a highly educated healthcare provider able to help them across many aspects of the health experience,” she says.

The demand for support is great with an estimated 8.1 million Canadians providing care to family and friends. One in 10 will work more than 30 hours per week in that capacity. “Often these people are untrained and are providing complex care to their loved ones,” explains Krawchenko. “If you’re alone in this journey and without a proper network of support and resources, it can be a very difficult path leading to physical and emotional exhaustion.”

Those are the challenges that Teva Canada has tackled with its Caregiver Friendly Pharmacy (CFP) program developed in collaboration with the Canadian Caregiver Network and their caregiver support platform, Huddol. Through accredited training, pharmacy teams learn how to best assist caregivers. The program also features online resources available through TevaCanada.com/Caregivers including a mapping tool to find a local pharmacy that specializes in responding to a caregiver’s unique needs.

Teva Canada’s easy-to-navigate caregiver site offers an array of valuable resources.

“What I really love about the Teva Canada program is that it raises awareness for pharmacists about how we can be empathetic and better understand caregivers,” Krawchenko says. “It gives pharmacists something tangible to provide caregivers. There’s a ton of information about how they can care for themselves so that they don’t experience burnout, as well as a range of helpful resources.”

Though those employed in the healthcare system are working at capacity and may be short on time, the Teva Canada program is a worthy investment of their time, she emphasizes. “It puts a real human lens on the people that we serve and interact with,” she says. “It’s an important eye-opener about how we can help people who are caring for their loved ones and ultimately develop good relationships with them. That investment of time means better health outcomes for patients and their families.”

For caregivers, the CFP certification sends a clear message: “You know that somebody’s actually gone to the trouble of learning more about your situation, more about caregiving and what’s involved. There is a trust and an understanding created that are invaluable.”

Krawchenko has been a caregiver herself, which has allowed her to see care both through a professional and personal lens. She had been taking care of her 96-year-old father until he passed away in July 2019. “It’s often a thankless job; it’s unpaid and it’s often unseen, and yet it can be all consuming and take up a a lot of our energy and time.”

When her own pharmacist told her that she was doing a great job of caring for her dad, it almost reduced her to tears. “It was so meaningful to get that positive affirmation from a healthcare provider,” she recalls. “Having somebody acknowledge you makes you feel like you’re visible. Caregivers need help. Pharmacists can develop a lot of trust and loyalty by helping them. Offering an extra bit of information and resources can really make such a positive difference in someone’s life.”

Presented by Teva Canada.