When COVID-19 hit, Canada’s pharmacists were always open to serve their clients and ensure their healthcare needs were met. For those with osteoporosis, continuity of care is crucial.
More than two million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis. It can have a major impact on our wellness, with fractures due to the disease more common than heart attacks, strokes and cancer combined. Current data from Osteoporosis Canada show that one in three women and one in five men will break a bone due to osteoporosis in their lifetime. Just one fracture incident can have life-altering consequences – reduced quality of life, loss or reduction of mobility, disfigurement, loss of independence, and even death. Research shows that 28 percent of women and 37 percent of men who suffer a hip fracture will die within the following year.
With the stakes so high, osteoporosis patients need support from many to help navigate their care journey. “Although your physician may be the quarterback for your disease, your pharmacist is an integral team member and one that is the most accessible of any health professional,” says Carolyn Whiskin, pharmacist/pharmacy manager with Charlton Health, a clinic specializing in the complete management of biologic and other specialty medications, based in Hamilton, Ont. “You can’t just pick up the phone and talk to your family doctor, but you can phone and speak directly to a pharmacist.”
Building a relationship with your pharmacy
Pharmacists can see the big picture in a way that’s unique. They know what medications you may be taking and be aware of any potential drug interactions. They are on the front lines and accessible to provide guidance on the day-to-day management of osteoporosis. “You can connect with a pharmacist who has access to your medical file on a weekend or an evening for advice,” explains Whiskin. “They can further guide you, if needed, to seek additional treatment at an after-hours clinic, or suggest going to the emergency room. Pharmacists play a valuable role to their patients and that’s why we recommend people generally stay with one pharmacy and develop that relationship over time.”
That relationship benefits from that type of commitment since a pharmacy can get to know you, your health issues and your full medication profile. Establishing an ongoing connection with a pharmacist who understands how to help you manage your health is as important as doing that with your doctor. It starts with a conversation between patient and pharmacist. It can begin with you saying you are looking at potentially using that pharmacy in the future, and go from there.
Whiskin suggests patients ask a pharmacist about what type of services are provided and the scope of their practice. “Pharmacists, like GPs, have to have a good amount of knowledge about just about every condition and on every drug dispensed,” she notes. “But there’s a difference between having that general knowledge and actually being an expert in a certain disease. Just as there are physician specialists, some pharmacists in the community have additional certifications, such as being a diabetes educator, that can provide great value to those who have a specific condition.”
Support and services when you really need it
Especially during COVID-19, the role of a pharmacist has become even more pivotal for osteoporosis patients as a trusted source of reliable, up-to-date information. For example, the importance of vitamin D and bone health is well documented. A pharmacist can help guide patients get the right amount in the right form and understand how current medications can interfere with absorption, then make recommendations.
Whiskin also points out that researchers are studying vitamin D and how a deficiency may be linked to poorer outcomes of respiratory illnesses, like COVID. Pharmacists like her have access to your medical file and can make recommendations on risk-diminishing strategies, from adequate vitamin D supplementation to vaccinations. “For anyone who’s had an osteoporotic fracture, your risk of pneumonia is heightened a year or two following that fracture,” she says. “I want to make sure that this vulnerable person is vaccinated.”
While the pandemic evolves, continuity of care becomes both more challenging and important for osteoporosis patients. If you have been prescribed an injectable medication, learning to self-inject may be an option that may save you from having to go into a doctor’s office depending on your level of comfort around risk exposure and personal choices during COVID-19. Pharmacists are well-educated about injections. In fact, more than one-third of Canadians go to a pharmacy to have their annual flu shot, according to government data. When it comes to osteoporosis-related injectables, a pharmacist can help with them, too. “I can train an individual on how to give a subcutaneous injection,” says Whiskin. “I can guide them through the process and provide ongoing support.”
When you’re looking for support as someone with osteoporosis, include your pharmacist as a member of your healthcare team. He or she is an invaluable resource for reliable advice, support and a wide range of services – a partner in your well-being, including bone health.
Did you know?
Canada has more than 42,000 pharmacists working in 10,000+ pharmacies.
70 percent work in community pharmacies, 15 percent in hospitals, and 15 percent in other settings.
Pharmacists have a minimum of five years of post-secondary education.
Canada’s pharmacy legacy can be traced back to 1617, when apothecary Louis Hébert emigrated from France to Quebec.
Presented through a sponsorship from Amgen Canada.