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

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

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

(Black Press file photo)
Blackfalds continuing its fight for a registries office

The Town of Blackfalds has been fighting for a Registry Service outlet for roughly a decade

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

Eric Rajah, co-founder of A Better World. (Photo Submitted)
Two Lacombe residents recieve award from Governor General for chairty work

Eric Rajah and Brian Leavitt co-founded A Better World, a charity which started in Lacombe in 1990

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside courthouse for man slain in Lacombe

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4 in Red Deer

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. Shandro says Alberta is considering whether to extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine shots to four months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta may follow B.C.’s lead on faster rollout of first COVID-19 dose

Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming

A locally-produced video project aims to preserve Canada’s railway history

‘Railways have been an integral part of Canadian history since 1836’

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victim’s case proceeds

Reaction to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council last month

Dr. Stanley Read
Hometown Bashaw doctor recognized with alumni award for AIDS work

Dr. Stanley Read, born and raised in Bashaw, is considered a global health leader

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

Most Read