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Pathway Health gives pharmacists a more active role in medical cannabis

New partnerships with Sobeys owner Empire Company and PharmaChoice puts Pathway's cannabis management program in over 1,800 pharmacists across Canada.
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Pathway Health president Wayne Cockburn

A new partnership between grocery chain owner Empire Company Limited and Pathway Health Corp., aims to give Canadian pharmacists a more active role in the care of patients who are good candidates for medical cannabis.

Through the partnership, about 425 pharmacies in Empire-owned stores—Sobeys, Safeway, FreshCo, Foodland, Thrifty Foods, IGA and Lawtons—get access to Pathway’s accredited course on cannabis and patient care, as well as to a cannabis management system that lets pharmacists offer medical cannabis assessments and referrals, patient support tools and ongoing tracking of their patients’ use of medical cannabis.

The partnership with Stellarton, N.S.-based Empire was announced on July 8, just two weeks after Pathway heralded a similar agreement with PharmaChoice Canada, which counts more than 2,000 pharmacists working in over 800 independent businesses.

All told–and taking into account agreements with other independent operators–Pathway now has partnerships with about 1,800 pharmacies across the country.

“Through our program, the pharmacist does the initial consult and makes a determination that a patient may benefit from (medical cannabis),” explained Wayne Cockburn, president of Toronto-based Pathway Health, one of the country’s largest chronic pain management service providers. “The pharmacist then passes the patient along to Pathway Health and we will onboard the patient through a telemedicine consultation and if appropriate, our healthcare professional will write a prescription. We then send the prescription to a licensed producer and they would ship the product.”

Once a prescription is filled, Pathway sends the information to the pharmacy so it can update its patient records and, if needed, follow up with the patient.

Cockburn noted that most pharmacists today don’t know if their patients are using cannabis—a critical oversight given that an estimated 20% of Canadians 15 years and older are cannabis users, according to Statistics Canada.

“What this means from a pharmacist’s standpoint is that one out of every five patients standing in front of them has used cannabis and this has not been recorded in the pharmacy’s patient records,” said Cockburn. “But if they have this information, then they can take a more informed approach to patient care. Now that they know their patient is taking cannabis, they can do a meds review to make sure there are no contraindications with the other meds their patients are on.”

Part of Pathway’s accredited cannabis course—which is nationally approved and meets the standards set by the Canadian Council on Continuing Education in Pharmacy and the Ontario College of Pharmacies–focuses on understanding potential interactions between cannabis and other drugs. The course will also equip pharmacists to answer questions about medical cannabis and cannabis health products.

The latter category, said Cockburn, could be hitting pharmacy shelves in the near future as consumers increasingly call for greater retail access to these products.

“Pharmacists are clearing shelf space and they now understand they have to get geared up for this,” he said. “Patients will have questions about these products and pharmacists have to be able to speak cannabis.”

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