The front facade and entrance of a Lawtons Drugs store.
The Lawtons Drugs store on Cobequid Road in Lower Sackville in July, 2021. Lawtons locations in Truro and New Glasgow will be the test sites for a new collaborative health care model called Pharmacist Walk-In Clinic. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

A new pilot project announced by the province in New Glasgow in on Friday morning will see pharmacists and nurse practitioners in Truro and New Glasgow providing health care through a model being called ‘Pharmacist Walk-In Clinic +’.

“It’s a collaborative approach, and it’s anticipated to alleviate some of the pressure on local emergency departments for health concerns that can be appropriately treated in a walk-in clinic setting by these primary health care professionals,” Nova Scotia Health (NSH) interim president and CEO Karen Oldfield said during Friday morning’s announcement.

Oldfield called the pilot “a test and try” program, adding it will be a blueprint for “possible planning for future sites.”

“We’ve certainly heard, and we know that Nova Scotians need, more options to access primary care, both for those who have a family doctor and more especially for those who do not,” Oldfield said before the collaborative care model launch.

The pilot sites will be located above two Lawtons Drugs pharmacies — one in New Glasgow and one in Truro.

“We will evaluate the project to learn about patient experience, the provider’s experience, the delivery of care, and more,” Oldfield said.

The project builds on the pharmacist walk-in clinic model in operation at the New Glasgow Lawtons’ site since the spring of 2021.

“I have heard from many constituents that it has been incredibly successful and convenient,” Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn said during the announcement.

“Adding a Nova Scotia Health nurse practitioner to this clinic and adding another clinic to Truro will further improve our community’s access to timely and appropriate high quality care.”

Vivek Sood, executive vice president of related businesses for Sobeys Inc., which owns Lawtons, also attended Friday’s announcement.

Since the pilot pharmacist walk-in clinic opened its doors in New Glasgow last May, Sood said they see up to 200 patients each week. These are patients he said would otherwise seek care from other areas of the health care system and might not be seen as quickly.

Clinical pharmacist Michelle Stewart also spoke during Friday’s announcement. She has been providing care at the New Glasgow pharmacist walk-in clinic since it opened last May.

“Someone asked me a few days ago what the community reaction has been to the New Glasgow clinic,” she said. “They have demonstrated their support through flowers, cards and baked goods, and many have become emotional.”

Stewart said she was excited to be part of a project that’s improving access to health care for people in rural communities.

“When you picture a typical pharmacy, you might think of a storefront with a retail space, a dispensary where the pharmacy team is located,” Stewart explained.

“But in a clinical setting like our New Glasgow walk-in, I am that same pharmacist, but rather than oversee the activities of the dispensary, my priority is to see patients one-on-one.”

Stewart said having dedicated and focused time with each patient allows her to help with things like supporting chronic disease management and health promotion.

In addition to prescribing and managing medication, Stewart said clinical pharmacy services provide additional benefits to the health care system by “redistributing responsibilities to capable and accessible pharmacists.”

She said many of the patients going to the New Glasgow pharmacist walk-in clinic are seeking relief for a range of minor illnesses, including allergies, joint pain, and discomfort from skin conditions like shingles, eczema, and acne.

“We can assess, prescribe and treat all of these. We can prescribe medication for cold sores, offer access to birth control and provide vaccinations — not just COVID — tetanus, as well as vaccinations required for travel,” Stewart said.

She’s looking forward to the new ‘walk-in +’ pilot model because it will allow her to work and learn alongside a nurse practitioner. She added that the addition of a nurse practitioner will expand and accelerate the level of care they can offer to include new diagnoses, as nurse practitioners can order and interpret diagnostic tests.

“To my knowledge, this is the first pharmacy clinic where a pharmacist and a nurse practitioner will collaborate in real time,” Stewart said.

Beverley Zwicker, registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, described Friday’s announcement as building on work they’ve been doing to allow patients to benefit from pharmacies “fully assuming their role in primary care.”

“It’s important that I emphasize that while this is a new health care delivery model, what these pharmacies are doing is they’re using the same knowledge and skills that are being used by pharmacists every day in community pharmacies across the province,” Zwicker said.

“What is new is how they are providing this care, and most importantly, that they are providing it in collaboration with another member of the health care team, the nurse practitioner.”

Oldfield said the partnership between NSH and Sobeys was made available through Nova Scotia Health’s Innovation Hub, which was launched on Tuesday.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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