The flu is nothing to sneeze at. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are an average of 12,200 hospitalizations related to influenza each year in this country and approximately 3,500 deaths attributed to the flu.
By donalee Moulton
Pharmacists are central players in the fight to protect Canadians from the ill effects of influenza. Most recently their role has expanded to include providing flu shots directly to patients. This fall that opportunity will come to pharmacists in Prince Edward Island.
“We’re ready,” says Erin MacKenzie, executive director of the PEI Pharmacists Association and a community pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart in Charlottetown. A poll of the province’s pharmacists indicates that roughly three-quarters are certified for immunizations and injections.
Clearly the pharmacy community recognizes the business opportunity inherent in this expanded scope of practice – and the chance to help patients enhance their health. But ultimately it’s about much more than either of those things, says MacKenzie. “We have an opportunity to build relationships one on one with patients. We are in an ideal position to identify high-risk individuals and recommend they have a flu shot.”
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) encourages all Canadians over six months of age to get a flu shot. With that recommendation as a foundation comes an opportunity for pharmacists to discuss the benefits of immunization for individual patients and their families. Such discussions can begin informally as a pharmacist is filling a prescription or while placing information on the flu shot into a bag along with a prescription or purchase.
Such discussions can also arise naturally during a medicine review, notes MacKenzie. “If you’re meeting with a patient who has diabetes or you’re meeting with a senior, this is an ideal opportunity to discuss protection against the flu generally and the benefits of a flu shot specifically.”
Increased media attention and the epidemic arrival of viruses like H1N1 have made more people aware of the flu shot and created greater demand for immunization. “It was the perfect storm to improve awareness,” notes MacKenzie.
However, the spotlight on the flu has also made some people more hesitant to get immunized, and pharmacists can help address those concerns. Paramount among the commonly asked questions: Will the flu shot give me the flu? Why do I need a shot every year? Why do I need a flu shot if I never get sick?
Reassurance and information can be dispensed casually in conversation with patients as well as pointing the patient in the direction of reliable, easy-to-understand information such as www.fightflu.ca, a website created and maintained by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
Some information on the flu should reside in the pharmacy itself. MacKenzie recommends pharmacists create a small section in their store where they can place seasonal information – brochures and fact sheets on allergies in the summer and colds and flu in the winter, for example.
Diversity is more than the spice of life; it is also a smart way to reinforce important healthcare messages. MacKenzie encourages pharmacists to create numerous opportunities to inform patients about the flu and the flu shot. This may include posting signage in the natural health section of the store and placing posters at the checkout counter; sporting buttons on the pharmacist’s coat to encourage questions; and hosting health information clinics. “The latter is also a great way to build effective partnerships with other professionals,” notes MacKenzie.
When it comes to fighting the flu effectively, pharmacists are armed and ready.