The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA) has provided comments to the Alberta College of Pharmacy in response to the college’s consultation on draft practice standards for virtual delivery of pharmacy services in the province.

According to the CLHIA, more than 3.1-million Albertans have drug, dental and other health benefits. They say there is a correlation with workplace absences and the availability of virtual care, as employees can easily access services without commuting to a doctor’s office. They add that virtual care also allows greater access to services for those living in rural and remote communities.

“We have strong interest in supporting the modernization of policies in order to prove Canadians with greater innovation, choice and access to virtual healthcare across the country,” they write in their response to the Alberta College of Pharmacy’s call for comment on the standard.

That said, the CLHIA adds that it has concerns regarding two sections of the draft standard.

In particular, they say the scope of sections which stipulate that in-person consultation is required could impact medication delivery by community pharmacies. Medication delivery, they say, facilitates access, especially for employees on disability and those with workplace hours that prevent them from attending the pharmacy in person. Delivery by a pharmacy, they add, assists with medication compliance and improved health outcomes. The section, they say, will also limit access to care for those seeking treatment at infusion clinics, as many clinics will not infuse a medication if a cold-chain has not been maintained. They say a standard that prevents the delivery of temperature sensitive medications directly will pose a significant patient safety risk. 

Next, they say plans which offer preferred providers to employees when they seek pharmacy services – medication dispensing – does not compromise patient safety or choice. “An employee who chooses to use their health benefits still retains the choice of where they purchase their prescription medicines in the majority of situations,” they write. “CLHIA would support the inclusion of patient choice to the draft standard.” 

Finally, they say if the standard is finalized as is, it would have the impact of allowing bricks and mortar pharmacies to offer incentives but would not allow virtual pharmacies to do the same.   

“CLHIA anticipates that Albertans will continue to expect more and better virtual healthcare in the future. While we appreciate this Standard of Practice is established to protect the safety of Albertans, CLHIA is of the opinion that patient safety is not compromised when preferred providers for pharmacy services provided by virtual care are offered, while in keeping with current standards,” they write.

“Overall, we are supportive of the progress towards employing more virtual healthcare services within the health care sector. In our view, this can and should be done in a way that does not diminish the existing virtual service offerings provided by the industry.” 

They conclude: “CLHIA is of the opinion that employer or employee preferred providers should not be seen as problematic in the provision of virtual care by a pharmacy professional and does not negatively impact patient safety, especially as it relates to medication dispensing.”