Patients looking to get rewards points for filling their prescription will soon be out of luck – the Alberta College of Pharmacists is moving forward with a decision to ban rewards and loyalty programs in pharmacies across the province.
The college had been looking to ban rewards programs in pharmacies due to concerns over patient health.
In some cases, patients were waiting for special bonus days before they would fill their prescriptions while others were filling more than they needed in order to get extra points.
"It is not acceptable for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to offer individuals inducements conditional on them being provided drugs, blood products or professional services," read a statement from the Alberta College of Pharmacists.
"Inducments cloud decisions that should be based soley on the best healthcare."
In a recent survey, the college says 70 per cent of its pharmacists and pharmacy technicians asked for a prohibition on rewards programs.
Lidia Molinara, a local pharmacist who voted in favour of pursuing the banning of points programs, says the system is dangerous for Albertans.
“We’re really looking at the care of the client and how we maximize that. We don’t want it to be about the points,” Molinara had first told CTV News last November, when the college had been looking into the ban.
Molinara spoke to CTV again Thursday, repeating that sentiment and supporting the prohibition.
"You're not going to go to a pharmacy based on points. What we really want you to do is go to a pharmacy based on what your pharmacist is going to provide," she said.
The college says along with delaying filling prescriptions and requesting more quantities than is needed, patients seeking rewards also try to get medications early and have prescriptions dispensed at one pharmacy while contacting a diferent pharmacy for health advice.
The college says moving forward with prohibiting rewards and loyalty incentives is about improving patient care and the pharmacy environment.
"It's really contrary to objective decision-making to have that conditional inducement in place," said Greg Eberhart with the college.
"The most important role of the pharmacist is working with patients and other health professionals to make sure that drugs are used properly."
Opposition against incentive ban
Mitchell Merowitz, the vice president of Air Miles, told CTV News on Thursday that the college has yet to prove claims that rewards programs hurts patient health.
"They have still failed to provide any empirical evidence to support their claims. In the 20 years that the Air Miles reward program and Safeway has been offering Air Miles to collectors for their prescriptions, there has not been a single complaint issued to the Air Miles rewards program or even filed with Safeway," Merowitz said.
Rebecca Star shops where she can get points. She says she's disappointed to hear about the ban. Once it's in place, she won't be able to bulk up on Airmiles while picking up prescriptions.
"I think it's sad that we're getting penalized for something they shouldn't have their nose in," Star said.
Jim Johnstone with Safeway, is also against the decision and says the loyalty programs don't affect the service pharmacists provide.
"The inducement, the loyalty point, Air Miles in this case, is given when they're picking up the prescription and ringing that through the till, it's happening after everything has taken place," Johnstone said.
"We offer our Air Miles as a thank you, if you will. It's a marketing tool we use to help patients and creat loyalty and infact I thnk there's positives on their health because it helps cement a relationship a relationship with our pharmacy."
"It's happening after the pharmacists have already talked to them."
Merowitz says the college is ignoring those against the change, and urges consumers to voice their concerns.
"We're disappointed with that stance and frankly are also disappointment that the college has ignored the voices of consumers," he said.
"Consumers need to continue to voice their concerns directly to the college and to their MLAs and others to see if we can get the college to reverse its position."
Officials with the Alberta College of Pharmacists said because of the complexity of the issue and the process required for a ban to be put in place, a timeline has not yet been set.
The college is looking at whether a new regulation, standard of practice or amendment to the Code of Ethics as options for putting the prohibition into effect.
Officials tell CTV News they expect to have the ban in place within the year.
Ontario, Newfoundland, PEI and Quebec already prohibit incentive programs on prescription drugs.
With files from Carmen Leibel