Pharmacists could reduce barriers for people seeking sexual and reproductive health care, new research from the University of Alberta shows.
Many pharmacists already provide some support for sexual and reproductive health, including the administration of contraceptives and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations. But further training and expansion of these services could help increase access and reduce inequalities in this important area of health care.
In the studyU of A researchers surveyed pharmacists who worked in community pharmacies across Alberta to determine what sexual and reproductive health services they were already providing and areas in which they wanted to expand their training. They found that most participants were confident in educating patients on many sexual and reproductive health topics, but many wanted additional training in sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections and health issues for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Many people face barriers to accessing necessary sexual and reproductive health services, including limited clinic hours, lack of a primary care physician, and confusion about where to address issues such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases. With more training and a coordinated effort across the country, pharmacists could become a vital resource to increase access to these services.
“Pharmacy is one of the most accessible entry points for people to get into the system,” says Javiera Navarretea research assistant in the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences† “COVID has made it clear how important it is to use all the healthcare resources we have.”
Canadian pharmacists are well positioned to expand their scope to include more sexual and reproductive health services. Their education has changed considerably in recent years, Christine Hughes explains, and a doctor of pharmacy has now become the entry-level degree in Canada. In addition, provinces such as Alberta have a compensation framework that allows pharmacists to be paid for services beyond just dispensing drugs, which would help counteract the additional workload, she adds.
“There’s a lot more focus on patient assessment and clinical interactions with patients, unlike in the past where drugs were predominant,” said Hughes, professor and interim dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Most pharmacies in Alberta have private consulting rooms, which provide the pharmacist and patient with space and more privacy to discuss sensitive topics. Since many patients find sexual and reproductive health topics challenging to discuss at the public desk, these rooms are an ideal space for more private discussions, explains Navarrete.
Pharmacists would need more training and professional education before pharmacies can become a go-to community contact point for sexual and reproductive health, Navarrete says, and patients would also need education. People who can take advantage of these services should be made aware of their options and the services they can access through pharmacists.
Hughes and Navarrete are working with researchers in Japan and Thailand to get a more comprehensive picture of what pharmacists around the world offer in terms of sexual and reproductive health services. One of the World Health Organization Sustainable Development Goals should ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by 2030, but there is currently no coordinated effort globally. Researching the current state of pharmacy practice can be an important step towards a more unified strategy.
“All countries are at different stages of this process, so showing that with data and providing pharmacists’ perspectives is a powerful tool that allows countries to implement the best models according to their regulations,” says Navarrete.
“It’s definitely an area for future growth,” added Hughes.
The EPICORE Center and the Alberta SPOR Support Unit Consultation and Research Services supported the development and distribution of surveys, data management and statistical services. Navarrete received funding from the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID-Becas Chile) scholarship program.
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