Pharmacists could reduce barriers for people seeking sexual and reproductive health services, according to new research from the University of Alberta.
Many pharmacists already provide some sexual and reproductive health support, including administering contraceptives and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. But further training and the expansion of these services could help increase access and reduce inequities in this key area of health care.
As part of the study, researchers from the University of Alberta interviewed pharmacists working in community pharmacies in Alberta to determine what sexual and reproductive health services they were already providing and the areas in which they wanted expand their training. They found that most participants were confident in educating patients on many sexual and reproductive health topics, but many wanted additional education on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections as well as child health issues. members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many people face barriers to accessing needed sexual and reproductive health services, including limited clinic hours, lack of primary care physicians, and confusion about where to approach issues such as as screening for sexually transmitted infections. With more training and a coordinated effort across the country, pharmacists could become a critical resource to help increase access to these services.
“Pharmacies are one of the most accessible entry points for people to enter the system,” says Javiera Navarrete, research assistant at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “COVID has highlighted how important it is to use all the healthcare resources we have.”
Canadian pharmacists are well positioned to expand their scope of practice to include more sexual and reproductive health services. Their training has changed significantly in recent years, says Christine Hughes, and a doctorate in pharmacy has now become the entry-to-practice credential in Canada. Additionally, provinces like Alberta have a compensation framework that allows pharmacists to be paid for services other than just dispensing, which would help counter the extra workload, she adds.
“The focus is much more on patient assessment and clinical interactions with patients, as opposed to historically where it was primarily about drug delivery,” says Hughes, professor and acting dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Most pharmacies in Alberta have private consultation rooms, which provide the pharmacist and the patient with space and more privacy to discuss sensitive topics. Since many patients may find it difficult to discuss sexual and reproductive health topics at the public counter, these rooms are an ideal space for more private discussions, says Navarrete.
Pharmacists would need more training and professional education before pharmacies could become a go-to community touchpoint for sexual and reproductive health, Navarrete says, and patients would also need education. People who may benefit from these services should be informed of their options and the services they can access through pharmacists.
Hughes and Navarrete are collaborating with researchers in Japan and Thailand to get a more comprehensive view of what pharmacists around the world provide in terms of sexual and reproductive health services. One of the World Health Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by 2030, but there is currently no coordinated effort around the world. Research identifying the current state of pharmacy practice could be a key step towards creating 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 can enable countries to implement the best models in line with their regulations,” says Navarrete.
“It’s definitely an area for future growth,” adds Hughes.
The EPICORE Center and the Alberta SPOR Support Unit Consulting and Research Services supported survey development and distribution, data management and statistical services. Navarrete has received funding from the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID-Becas Chile) scholarship program.