A number of pharmacists in Alberta say they’re concerned with how reward and loyalty points programs are affecting the health of patients in the province.

The Alberta College of Pharmacists is looking to ban rewards programs in pharmacies because some patients are waiting for special bonus days before they fill their prescriptions while others are filling more than they need to get extra points.

“We’ve seen situations where individuals with chronic conditions periodically might stop taking their medications for several days to wait the availability of a bonus program. That can have pretty serious consequences,” said Greg Eberhart with the Alberta College of Pharmacists.

“That’s not in the interest of the health system.”

Eberhart says more than a thousand pharmacists in Alberta have told the Alberta College of Pharmacists they believe receiving rewards, extra points, or coupons when consumers fill their prescription should be prohibited.

“They don’t always contribute to healthy decision making and really the focus should be on the health and well-being of individuals,” Eberhart said.

Along with concerns expressed overtime, the Alberta College of Pharmacists recently conducted a survey that 1,700 pharmacists in the province completed. Of that group, 75 per cent voted in favour of prohibiting points programs.

Safeway, one of several corporate businesses with reward programs available at pharmacies in their stores, told CTV News on Friday that the potential ban of rewards programs from its stores is unfair and should be of concern to consumers.

“Consumers should be very concerned with the threat that the Alberta College of Pharmacists may eliminate their ability to collect Air Miles and other loyalty rewards and discounts in connection with prescription purchases,” read a statement issued by Betty Kellsey, public affairs manager for Safety Alberta.

“Our customers have high regard for the professionals that work in our pharmacies and programs such as Air Miles are seen as a bonus within this relationship that often otherwise involve trying health challenges. Safeway believes that taking away this ability is simply unfair to our customers.”

A statement from Shoppers Drug Mart issued to CTV News on Friday said the company believes the loyalty programs should continue to be permitted.

"Surveys indicate that patients see these types of programs positively and they value the benefit they receive from programs like ours," the statement reads.

"Shoppers Optimum points can be used to purchase items directly in our stores from essentials like milk to health items like vitamins. In effect, they save patients and customers money on the things they need to live."

But Lidia Molinara, who has owned a number of independent pharmacies in Alberta, is one of the pharmacists who voted in favour of pursuing a prohibition.

Molinara says the rewards system can be 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 said.

“If you need to have a prescription filled it shouldn’t be based at all on the points program. It should be based on your need for it, what the doctor is prescribing for you and what you actually require as far as quantity is concerned… there’s a concern about the program in the sense of its safety.”

Molinara said the decision may also lead to more people using smaller pharmacies.

“If you’re making a decision to use a pharmacist based on points you’re probably not making the right decision. You need to look for a pharmacist who is going to be involved in your health care,” she said.

Click here to read the ACP's inducement (reward programs) research highlights.

Click here to read the ACP's Draft Regulatory Provision on prohibiting inducements (reward programs).

Safeway says Air Miles in connection with prescription sales have been ongoing for 20 years and the company has “never received any complaint or been made aware of any harm to patient care.”

The company is encouraging Albertans to express their views to the Alberta College of Pharmacists Council before the Dec. 3 review deadline.

Meanwhile the Alberta College of Pharmacists is reviewing the concerns that have been expressed and are asking for feedback on a draft regulatory provision from all of its pharmacists.

“As much as we’ve seen these commercial programs around in the past, it’s important that we create a healthy environment for healthy decision making and healthy relationships. We need to evaluate the feedback that we’ve received,” Eberhart said.

“We’re listening, we’re seeking to understand,” he said.

With files from Carmen Leibel