The logo for Shoppers Drug Mart is shown in downtown Toronto, on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Lima

Drugstores ramp up COVID-19 testing as part of health-care push amid pandemic

Community access and convenience are a critical advantage drugstores can cultivate

Bolstered by early successes, drugstores are accelerating their push into traditional health care amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loblaw Companies Ltd., which began offering COVID-19 testing for patients at a handful of its Alberta pharmacy locations in June, plans to expand the program to all 234 of its pharmacies in the province by Sept. 1.

The company says it has reached out to all 10 provinces to discuss in-store testing outside Alberta, with Ontario Premier Doug Ford this week acknowledging the possibility.

The swab tests are only for those with no symptoms or any known contact with coronavirus patients and may be useful for teachers returning to school or Canadians who take care of an older family member, said Theresa Firestone, head of health and wellness at Shoppers Drug Mart. Loblaw-owned pharmacy locations include Shoppers stores as well as Independent Foods and No Frills.

“It’s very convenient. We’re in every community. The other plus is they don’t have to line up with people who may have symptoms. We’ve shared that with Ontario and with other provinces, so at this point we’re looking forward to what they may decide,” Firestone said.

London Drugs also conducts COVID-19 tests in Alberta. It began offering the service at six locations during the past two weeks and plans to roll it out at nine more by October. Like Shoppers, it bills Alberta Health Services for testing costs.

The service builds on other responses to the pandemic such as online pharmacist consultations and a pilot program where patients consult virtually with doctors in a private room in the store.

London Drugs, whose 82 stores are located across all four Western provinces, is among the pharmacy retailers beefing up their role in a health-care system grappling with an aging population.

“With the extended hours of operation, you can basically go in when our stores are open and be able to find a pharmacist to ask a question. So what we’re able to do at that point is basically help triage the system,” said Chris Chiew, head of pharmacy at the Richmond, B.C.-based retailer.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 62 cases of COVID-19, no new deaths

London Drugs has also hired diabetes educators to test blood sugar and cholesterol levels and assist patients with weight management and diet.

Shoppers has stepped even further into the realm of physicians, opening one of three planned medical clinics with doctors who cater to a roster of patients and walk-in services.

“There are a number of Canadians who don’t have access to a family physician. And we thought there was an opportunity for us to really play a role here in terms of access,” Firestone said.

Drugstores can also handle the bureaucratic side of health care, freeing up doctors to spend more time with patients, she said.

“Looking for PPE (personal protective equipment), sorting out their waiting rooms so that people are socially distanced, managing virtual care…we’re able to take that burden on for them,” Firestone said.

Community access and convenience are a critical advantage drugstores can cultivate as thinning profit margins prompt them to look beyond over-the-counter sales for income.

“Drugstores have faced tighter margins for generic drugs in recent years and have been looking for alternative sources of revenue,” said University of Calgary economics professor Aidan Hollis.

Some provinces now allow pharmacists to vaccinate patients — flu shots, for example — and write prescriptions for certain medication, such as birth control, as well as extend prescription refills for chronic medications.

“In addition, pharmacies find it attractive to draw patients in for health care even if they don’t earn profits on supplying health care: once the patients are there they may purchase other goods,” Hollis said.

Drugstore chains under the umbrella of McKesson Canada, including Rexall, Guardian and I.D.A., have also started to offer the tests and have conducted more than 6,000 to date.

Metro Inc. declined to comment on any attempts to provide COVID-19 testing. The bulk of the company’s Jean Coutu drugstores are located in Quebec, which unlike some provinces does not allow pharmacists to conduct testing via nose and mouth swabs.

B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba have not expressed particular interest in asymptomatic testing in pharmacies, according to London Drugs, which has reached out to all three provinces.

“They have the capacity right now to be able to do the number of tests that they want to do,” Chiew said.

Ontario conducted 24,353 tests last week and can process up to 33,000 weekly through its provincial lab network, the health ministry said.

“We are looking at ways of enhancing access to testing. Having pharmacies function as testing centres is currently under consideration,” spokeswoman Miriam Mohamadi said in an email.

“How to integrate pharmacies into the COVID-19 diagnostic network, specifically how they would function and for whom they would be appropriate, is being explored.”

READ MORE: B.C. study finds 25% of people think health-care workers shouldn’t be out in public

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

JJ Collett Natural Area Foundation held its AGM on Oct. 19 at the Ponoka Legion. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
De-listing Alberta parks creates ‘risk’ for coal mining: CPAWS

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society speaks at JJ Collett AGM

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

(File photo)
Ponoka’s seen rise in relationship ‘disharmony,’ domestic violence during COVID-19

While there has been an increase in files, not all have required charges to be laid

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier tests negative for COVID-19 but will isolate for a week

Kenney said he will isolate until Oct. 29 and, in the meantime, work from home

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Most Read