Canada: The end of pharmacy reward programmes?

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By: RickFerguson |

Posted on February 15, 2016

A recent story in Canada�s National Post details a potentially seismic shift in health and pharma retail loyalty�at least in British Columbia: The BC Court of Appeal overturned a previous ruling that allowed pharmacists to issue loyalty points for customers. As a result of the unanimous ruling, retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Safeway, and Thrifty Foods, as well as coalition loyalty programmes such as Air Miles, will no longer be able to offer reward points and other incentives on pharmacy purchases.

The ruling comes at the behest of the College of Pharmacists of B.C., which has long argued that pharmacy reward programmes are detrimental to patient health. In its argument, the College cited such anecdotal evidence as some pharmacy customers waiting for �bonus days� to fill their prescriptions, while others earned reward points on $10,000 per month of subsidized medications.

At the core of the debate over pharmacy rewards, and the role of pharmacists in offering those rewards to their customers, is the argument over whether pharmacists are primarily retailers or primarily patient caregivers. Money quote from the Post article:

�The lower court judge who originally sided with the retailers against the College made a point of referring to clients of pharmacies as �customers.� The appeal court, in their opening comments, refers to them as �patients.� A lot hangs on that nomenclature. �The pharmacist�s role is not simply to take and fill the prescription,� Doug Kipp, chair of the college�s board, said in an affidavit that focused on the particular risk to the poor. �The role of a pharmacist has expanded over the years to include duties to provide health care advice and to provide counselling as to the therapeutic value of the drugs prescribed.

The initial lower court ruling in favor of the retailers accepted the argument that pharmacy rewards posed a risk to consumers, but the judge considered the proposed ban �too broad.� In response, retailers had already dropped pharmacy rewards �bonus days� promotions. The Court of Appeal ruling now puts an end to pharmacy rewards in British Columbia�and the Court�s unanimous ruling makes an appeal to the Supreme Court unlikely.

For their part, the retailers expressed disappointment in the ruling. Shoppers Drug Mart told CTV News the ruling was �disappointing.�

The Bullet Point: The Post story illustrates the importance of retailers and loyalty providers educating the public about the benefits of loyalty programs to consumers. While the risk of abuse of rewards and incentives in the retail pharmacy sector is real, no one could legitimately accuse retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart of having anything other than their customers' health and best interests at heart.

Used responsibly and transparently, the data from retail pharmacy reward programmes about consumer purchase patterns can actually be used to patients' benefit�such as warning them when a prescription drug might interact negatively with a recent purchase of over-the-counter medication. The B.C. ruling might be a fait accompli for retailers, but should provide them with the incentive to better educate consumers, the courts, and legislatures about the real benefits of retail pharmacy reward programmes.

Read the National Post story here.

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