Thousands of Albertans are speaking out about a possible move from the Alberta College of Pharmacists to ban reward and loyalty programs from pharmacies but it looks like the decision won't be made until the New Year.
In a closed-door meeting Thursday, council members for the Alberta College of Pharmacists spent the day debating the issue and reviewing public feedback – which included more than 18,500 emails from Albertans.
The college says the main concern from over rewards programs in pharmacies is over patient health.
Some pharmacists say some patients are waiting for special bonus days to fill their prescriptions, while others are filling more than they need to get extra points.
“In the past year, the quantities and frequency of inducements and the targeting of vulnerable populations have increased. We have seen that inducements can be detrimental to quality patient care and pharmacy practice. We cannot condone programs that lead patients to make unhealthy choices,” the Alberta College of Pharmacists said in a statement posted on their website on Thursday.
There are also concerns the loyalty programs diminish the profession.
“You don’t go to your dentist and get Air Miles, based on the dentist you choose. You don’t go to the doctor based on points,” said independent pharmacist Graham Anderson.
“I think in order for our profession to be seen as credible, people should be encouraged to choose their pharmacist based on the value of the services they’re providing and the merit of the services they are providing.”
Ben Bhatti has been a pharmacist for 25 years. He works at Safeway and says eliminating reward programs from pharmacies would be unfair for his customers.
“The motive behind this is really anti-competition and restricting choice for patients,” Bhatti said.
“As a pharmacist for Safeway I feel that I provide loyalty programs that have no effect whatsoever upon the behaviour and the quality of care that I provide. They’re (the council) is saying there are issues and there are no issues.”
He says the overwhelming response from Albertans should be a clear sign for the college not to go forward with the ban.
“The college received over 18,500 emails from Albertans and yet they’re still debating whether they should go forward. I think that’s an overwhelming support of stopping the prohibition but they are still debating,” Bhatti said.
The college says 70 per cent of its pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are asking for a prohibition on rewards and loyalty programs.
Mitchell Merowitz, the vice president of Air Miles, tells CTV News there is no proof to back claims that rewards programs are hurting patient health.
“There is no empirical evidence that has been provided by the college or anyone else for that matter that providing a reward to the consumer for filling out a prescription changes any type of behaviour,” Merowitz said.
After hours of discussion, the Alberta College of Pharmacists released a statement late Thursday, saying:
“Given the large volume of information received and the complexity of the issue, council has decided that they need more time to consider it before they proceed with any decisions.”
Council members say they plan to take the next few weeks to consider all information and hope to make a final decision in the New Year.
Merowitz says the choice is clear.
“We simply can’t understand why a decision can’t be made given the tremendous input from consumers and existing research,” he said.
“Consumers have been very, very clear that they oppose any prohibition on the collection of points at pharmacies. This has been in place for more than 20 years in the province of Alberta and there is absolutely no evidence or no reason to take these points away or prohibit them from being earned.”
Both Safeway and Shoppers Drug Mart have issued statements saying they believe rewards programs should continue.
With files from Carmen Leibel