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07/12/2022

Compassion in pharmacy practice

It strikes me that the double whammy of increasing inflation and increasing interest rates will result in more and more of our patients and customers being squeezed financially and unable to afford their medications and basic staples.

I’m confident my actions during my 35 years as a pharmacy owner do not differentiate my business partners and me from thousands of other pharmacy owners across Canada. On compassionate grounds, we wrote off tens of thousands of dollars over the years by providing prescriptions and other goods to members of the communities we serviced who simply could not afford to pay. Our patients and customers seemed to understand that if they needed a loaf of bread or a litre of milk or help with the cost of their medication, they could ask us and we would rarely say no.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines compassion as a noun, meaning the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This seems straightforward.

However, in November 2018 the Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) saw fit to provide guidance for pharmacy professionals “to help clarify what compassion in pharmacy practice involves.”

I guess their guidance was not clear enough because they updated the document in December 2021, where they define compassion in pharmacy practice as ”involv[ing] pharmacy professionals seeking to understand the needs and challenges facing an individual, and exhibiting empathy to them without judgement or stigma. This understanding is combined with a willingness to pursue and provide ethical solutions that address these needs and challenges through the practice of pharmacy.”

The ACP guidance document continues by stating compassion “only applies if specific requirements are met in relation to the circumstances of a specific patient, assessed using the professional judgement of the pharmacist providing the drug product, professional service or health care product, aid, or device to the patient. A pharmacist must exercise their professional judgement based on the unique needs and challenges of a specific individual.”

I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that ACP required an exhaustive definition of compassion to ensure practitioners don’t confuse the action with providing an incentive, the latter being prohibited. It’s probably naïve of me to ‘hope’ we will act as professionals and decent human beings simply because we should.

Why am I bringing this up? It strikes me that the double whammy of increasing inflation and increasing interest rates will result in more and more of our patients and customers being squeezed financially and unable to afford their medications and basic staples. In my practice, I always relied upon the principle that our patients were better off taking their medication as prescribed than not taking it at all. While I understand it is not the responsibility of community pharmacy to fill the gaps created by government policy, I’m still urging all of you who are in a position to do so, to please help your fellow citizens when called upon.

Show compassion when you are able. I promise you’ll feel good about helping and you’ll win over your patient for life. That’s an incentive our provincial regulators can’t discipline us over.

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