Compared with their U.S. counterparts, Canadian pharmacists are being called on to play a bigger part in the delivery of health care, according to Katz Group Canada chief executive officer Frank Scorpiniti.

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Katz CEO: Pharmacists embrace expanded role

April 20th, 2012
by Alasdair McKichan

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – Compared with their U.S. counterparts, Canadian pharmacists are being called on to play a bigger part in the delivery of health care, according to Katz Group Canada chief executive officer Frank Scorpiniti.

The operator of the Rexall/Rexall Pharma Plus chain, Katz is adapting its business in response to provincial health care reforms that are reducing pharmacy reimbursement for prescription drugs but also expanding the menu of services that pharmacists can provide — and for which they can be compensated.

"The expanded role pharmacists are being accorded in Canada puts the country ahead of the U.S. in terms of their contribution within the medical system," said Scorpiniti, who took the reins as Katz's CEO in February after serving as chief operating officer since April 2011.

And the perspective of this 20-years-plus retail pharmacy veteran is noteworthy. Before joining Katz, Scorpiniti was senior vice president of pharmacy operations at Duane Reade, now part of Walgreen Co., and prior to that he held positions of increasing responsibility at Longs Drug Stores, now part of CVS Caremark Corp. He began his career as a pharmacist.

Frank Scorpiniti

Scorpiniti referred to recent changes to legislation enlarging the scope of pharmacy practice in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario and parallel changes to provincial drug plan remuneration policies in those provinces that compensate pharmacists for delivering the new services.

He described the Ontario Meds Check program — in which the provincial drug plan remunerates a pharmacist for reviewing the medications of a patient with multiple prescriptions and may be taking over-the-counter medicines — as "progressive and well-developed."

"It keeps the physician and the patient aligned, it allows the pharmacist to detect possible negative drug interactions, it avoids unnecessary patient visits to the ER, it reduces health expenditures — it is a very useful part of the overall health care system," Scorpiniti explained.

He gave a similar high commendation to the provisions in some provinces that allow pharmacists to undertake such functions as renewing a prescription in the absence of a physician's direction when it is clearly necessary to do so, to initiate drug therapy for minor ailments and to administer immunizations.

He expressed the hope that soon all the provinces will introduce similar provisions. "They are all good examples of the collaborative pharmacist/physician practice that is so beneficial to the patient," he said. "It is also fulfilling for pharmacists who are able to exercise the skills and knowledge that they acquired in their training."

And Rexall pharmacists have been embracing their new powers, Scorpiniti noted. "It has been particularly heartwarming to have received in recent months a substantial volume of letters from patients expressing their enthusiasm for the help they have received from our pharmacists exercising their new powers," he said. "Some of the patients have been talking about how their quality of life has been improved as a result of a pharmacist's advice or action.

"When you consider that it is likely only a small minority of people take the trouble to write about something that has pleased them, one realizes just how well-appreciated the new pharmacist's role is proving to be," he added.

When asked if he considered the fees for the provision of the new services adequate, Scorpiniti was diplomatic in his answer.

"We are in close touch with governments in relation to the development of these services, including how they are remunerated," he explained. "These are still the early days and the programs will evolve. There is no doubt governments recognize investing in collaborative services like these provides good value and can be central to good patient care.

"We will evolve in this area as more experience is gained," he said.

The understanding that pharmacists will be spending much more of their time with patients and less time on "count and pour" functions has been influencing Katz Group management's decisions on the design of dispensing areas, according to Scorpiniti.

"Our engineers have been working on designs to ensure that pharmacists have the most efficient work environment possible," he said, adding that Katz will be implementing the results of the studies and planning in its new and renovated dispensaries.

In late January, Katz announced a $920 million (Canadian) deal to sell its banner pharmacy business, Drug Trading Co., and its franchise pharmacy operation, Medicine Shoppe Canada, to McKesson Corp. The transaction, involving more than 1,000 pharmacies, closed in late March.

On the same day that Katz unveiled the deal with McKesson, it announced that it had acquired Dell Pharmacies, an 18-store chain operating in the Hamilton area of southern Ontario. Scorpiniti said the integration of Dell is going smoothly, with more than half of the stores having already been converted to the Rexall IT infrastructure.

The sale to McKesson positions Katz to accelerate its store upgrade program and boost the number of corporate stores that trade under the Rexall brand, Scorpiniti said.

"The divestiture allows us to renew our focus on the expansion of our chain business and leverage new opportunities at an even greater pace," he explained. "With our management team laser-focused on strengthening the patient and customer experience, we have the ingredients for success.

"There's more to come at Rexall," he said, "and we couldn't be more excited about the company's future."