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Have meds, will travel – Polaris Travel Clinic takes a different path

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The travel bug that bit Jason Kmet landed him in such exotic destinations as Morocco, Vietnam and Argentina. As a licensed pharmacist, however, Kmet knew the travel bugs that bite many visitors could land them in the hospital.

 

By donalee Moulton

Photography by David Watt

“I realized providing travel medicine services was a good area for a pharmacist,” says Kmet. “It seemed like an excellent fit with the skills required of a pharmacist. You review where patients are going, when they are going, and their medical history. There is no diagnosis.”

Before offering any travel services, Kmet explored the field and went on to successfully write the International Society of Travel Medicine exam in Budapest, Hungary. “I embarked on getting involved in this world,” he says. “I quickly realized this is what I really want to do.

Armed with a greater understanding of travel medicine and the expanding scope of practice in Alberta, Kmet opened Polaris Travel Clinic and Pharmacy in Airdrie. It’s unlike any pharmacy you’ve seen. The clinic, once a doctor’s office, still retains the same medical look. There is a waiting room, a reception area, and appointment rooms. There are only about three shelves of medications – antibiotics and other travel-related medicine – and routine prescriptions are not filled here. Patients visit the clinic by appointment only.

“I’ve never seen a pharmacy anywhere like ours. It runs like a doctor’s office,” says Kmet. “I didn’t want to open just another pharmacy.”

The uniqueness reflects the distinct needs of individuals looking to prepare themselves for travel. Kmet and his team do pre-travel health consultations, administer vaccines, dispense travel-related prescriptions, offer over-the-counter medications, and carry other products relating to travel health such as mosquito bed nets, insect repellents, and sunscreen.  Polaris has even been certified by the Public Health Agency of Canada as a Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre.

Most pharmacists will not likely immerse themselves in travel medicine to the extent Kmet has, but offering some travel medicine services holds significant potential to attract new customers and strengthen relationships with existing patients. The starting point, says Kmet, is education. “It is really important to establish credibility. You need to do some training.”

That training sends an important message to patients – and to other healthcare professionals, who are an important source of referrals. “Getting additional training helps to show others in the healthcare team that you have made an effort to learn something about this area,” notes Kmet. “If you really want to make this part of your practice, you need to get the knowledge; then you need to be able to show that you have the knowledge.”

Advertising is an important means of letting the community know about the range of services you offer. Kmet, for example, runs print ads and promotes services and products on the pharmacy’s website. He also gets involved in community events such as parades. As well, for every travel vaccine given at the clinic, $1 is donated to charity.

“We want the public to know about us,” says Kmet.

Awareness will encourage patients to visit your pharmacy for their travel medicine needs, but it’s the service you provide that will keep them coming back – and prompt them to recommend you. For Kmet, going above and beyond is business as usual. “You need to verify the vaccine is appropriate, but I also look at where people are going, what they will need and why. It’s all within the pharmacist’s skill set, but it’s a twist on what we usually do.”

Expect more such twists in the future. As pharmacists’ scope of practice expands across the country there are greater and diverse opportunities to provide service to patients. “There are going to be more and more niche markets for pharmacists,” says Kmet. “We’ve taken it to the next level.”

Jason Kmet’s 3 top travel pharmacy tips

  • Understand what your province allows in terms of expanded scope of practice before you set up a clinic.
  • Take additional, specialized training to establish your credentials and ensure your staff are trained, too.
  • Promote your services. Consider local advertising, social media, and participation in community events to establish your business.

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