Diving into Healthcare Access with Sandra Hanna


Sandra Hanna

This installment features Sandra Hanna, a practicing pharmacist, owner-operator of a community pharmacy, and CEO of the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada.

Welcome to the second installment of our series: Stories from the Frontlines, produced in partnership with Mint Pharmaceuticals. In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the importance of virtual care, ensuring Canadians continue to have access to medications and the integral role that pharmacies have played during COVID-19.

In the early months of the pandemic, many family doctors were forced to close their doors to regular face-to-face contact and move to a hybrid of virtual care. This resulted in a unique challenge. What do you do when new or chronic medical issues unrelated to COVID-19 need to be addressed? And this problem presented an unprecedented opportunity for a group of healthcare providers that are sometimes underrecognized for the care they can provide. Pharmacists were able to provide greater capacity of care when other primary care providers were overwhelmed.

When we spoke with Sandra Hanna, CEO of the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada, she shared her thoughts on how the pandemic has changed people’s perception of healthcare and where they receive it.

“Pharmacies have a model that we believe is very person-centric. COVID-19 has certainly highlighted many challenges, yet it’s also accelerating some of the things we’ve wanted to see in healthcare for quite some time, like virtual care.”

In early March of last year, telehealth became a real, accessible option for people who needed healthcare during the pandemic. Pharmacies have been able to provide many services virtually across the country, whether it’s virtual prescribing for minor ailments, virtual medication reviews, providing education over the phone or even delivering medication. Amidst the inconveniences and challenges that came with the pandemic, some pharmacies even offered virtual care systems that helped gain access to online physicians. These systems provide a practical, convenient way to assist with people’s immediate medical needs.

Pharmacies have also showcased innovative ways in which different healthcare providers can work together inter-professionally to offer solutions. “We want to push for diversity in the way people access medication so we can improve the efficiency of health systems and make things convenient for people. People want choice in the way they access care.” Whether through brick-and-mortar locations or virtual care, pharmacies can meet people where they’re at.

While the pandemic showcased just how much people want multiple ways to access healthcare, it also shed light on medication cost coverage. More than 95% of the Canadian population, representing 34 million Canadians, have drug coverage, either private, public, or a combination of plans. The remaining 5%, 1.9 million Canadians, do not have any access to prescription drug coverage. This is one of the issues Sandra and her organization are very engaged in.

“We should be focusing our resources on those who don’t have coverage and on people who need it most.”

Throughout this pandemic, pharmacies have served as ‘healthcare hubs’ due to their convenience and accessibility. Pharmacies are working to provide person-centric care through asymptomatic COVID-19 testing, home delivery and the 2020-2021 flu shot campaign, in addition to their many other activities such as dispensing prescriptions and providing information on medication usage.

“Overall, I believe our system has fared very well when it comes to accessing medication. However, the pandemic highlighted that there are regulatory barriers that are difficult to get across in Canada. We need to think about contingency plans and ways to facilitate those safety nets.”

So how do we do that? Sandra believes the key lies in re-examining the role a pharmacist can play in the healthcare system. “The pandemic has shone a light on how healthcare providers work together to support one another. We need to push for tools to help pharmacies share and receive information more effectively. We’ve been involved in these discussions and are acutely aware of why sharing information is beneficial to the system and its efficiency. It will allow us to open new doors in terms of providing continuity of care.”

Every March, pharmacists and pharmacies are celebrated through Pharmacy Appreciation Month. We’re thrilled to amplify and shed light on the critical work of pharmacies and organizations like the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada. We hope our discussion has helped shift your perception of how pharmacies have contributed to healthcare during this pandemic and created a deeper understanding of the cooperative nature between healthcare professions.

Stay tuned for our final installment of Stories from the Frontlines, coming soon!

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Passionate about improving health care access, Mint delivers high-quality and affordable generic pharmaceuticals to patients across Canada.