Convenience, at a cost? Pharmacies offering tests and treatment for strep, flu
Published Friday, December 2, 2016 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2016 10:07AM EST
Canadians who think they’re coming down with the flu or strep throat may soon be able to avoid the doctor’s office and instead head to their local drug store where they can pay for a diagnostic test to quickly determine if they’re sick.
But some medical experts are unsure about the rapid test’s accuracy and suggest that the method may lead some patients to be prescribed drugs they don’t need. They also raise concerns about whether patients receive the appropriate followup care.
Some Shoppers Drug Mart stores in Alberta, Nova Scotia and British Columbia already offer the rapid tests, which cost $15 for the strep test and $25 for the flu test. Medical authorities behind the tests say the flu test has an approximately 86 per cent accuracy rate and the strep test has an accuracy rate of more than 95 per cent.
The company plans to roll out the new test in stores across Canada – a move proponents say could help divert patients away from busy emergency rooms and clinics.
The tests are fairly simple. Patients are asked to open their mouths for a quick swab of the throat or the nose, administered by a pharmacist, which is then analyzed by an in-store diagnostic device. If the results come back positive, some pharmacists are able to write up a prescription for an anti-viral medication or antibiotics on the spot.
“Lots of our stores are open until midnight, some are even open 24 hours and open holidays. So that really improves the patient’s access,” said Ashley Davidson, a pharmacist with Shoppers Drug Mart in Alberta.
But some medical experts have doubts about the test. Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Alberta, is uncertain about how the test is structured.
“You’re basically having an uncontrolled, mini-health care system developed without all the usual processes that we know are important,” Saxinger said.
One of Saxinger’s colleagues recently studied the new test. The results suggested that some patients may be getting drugs that they don’t necessarily need.
“What we would expect in our population, if these tests were to be used in a pharmacy setting … (the report’s author) estimated that an additional 20 to 25 per cent of people would get antibiotics unnecessarily,” said Saxinger.
But one Alberta patient who felt herself falling ill said the test was quick and convenient.
“I thought, I’m going to try that, and sure enough, we came in and out in 15 minutes,” Kelly Charter told CTV News. “To me it was well worth it.”
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip