SMU, Dal students go with Ont. pharmacy

With the Direct2U pharmacy delivery service students no longer have to leave campus to get their prescriptions filled (Photo: Amy Crofts)

The last thing anyone wants to do when they’re sick is wait in line at the drugstore to have their prescription filled.

But students at Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s don’t have to do that. They can pick up their medication at school or get it delivered right to their door.

Nine universities in Canada have revamped their student health plans to include Direct2U, a pharmacy delivery services supplied by Alliance Pharmacy in Ontario.

Not only does the plan offer 100 per cent drug coverage for students, universities save too.

According to Saint Mary’s University Students’ Association, the plan will save the school $15,000 over the next fiscal year based on the current number of student users. The student health plan saves on high drug costs and markup normally incurred from filling prescriptions at community pharmacies.

Cathie Ross, general manager of SMUSA, says having a pharmacy-services option such as Direct2U empowers students.

“This gives students an opportunity to become aware of their own health plan and more aware as consumers,” she said.

How it works

After students receive a prescription from their doctor, health centre staff will fax the prescription to Alliance Pharmacy in Aurora, Ont. Pharmacists will then review and fill the order and have it couriered to the student within one business day.

Students are notified by phone or text message when their prescription is available for pickup. Medications can be delivered to the student health centre, health plan office, or a personal address.

Direct2U not for everyone

“Everybody has to be on board [when using Direct2U], especially the doctors,” says Jane Collins, nurse manager at SMU’s health centre.

“We can’t do anything if they just hand the prescription to the student and the student goes and fills their script at a community pharmacy,” she said.

Since health centre staff are responsible for either faxing or phoning-in the prescription to Alliance, all staff members must be in favour of the service.

Some universities have also resisted adopting Direct2U because of the increased workload of handling and receiving prescription involves. Collins insists the workload has not increased because SMU had the proper infrastructure in place when the pharmacy service was implemented.

Another drawback of Direct2U is the one-day wait for prescription delivery.

Although university health centres can provide students with a small supply of medication to see them through until their prescription arrives, not all students can benefit from this.

“I would be willing to [use Direct2U] in a heartbeat, but the things I need a prescription for I need right away,” says Victoria Roberts, a fourth-year sociology student at SMU. “Normally I don’t need antibiotics, I get the weird stuff.”

The student health centre only has emergency supplies of high user drugs, such as antibiotics, painkillers and oral contraceptives on hand.

What this means for students

The SMU health centre fills nine to 10 prescriptions through Direct2U each day (Photo: Amy Crofts)

“There are no drawbacks to the system, mainly because it fully benefits the student,” says Samantha Morneau, Dalhousie Student Union health and dental plan administrator.

She says about two to three prescriptions go through Direct2U per day and the service is especially beneficial for students who live on campus.

Compared to Direct2U, the regular drug plans at Dal and SMU offer 80 per cent coverage and a $6.00 cap on the dispensing fee. This means insurance will cover 80 per cent of the drug cost and $6.00 of the fee the pharmacy charges to fill the prescription.

To put this in perspective, the average dispensing fee at Lawtons Pharmacy on Spring Garden Road is $10.83. Therefore students pay at least $4.83 in addition to 20 per cent of their medication costs.

According to their website, Alliance pharmacy offers lower ingredient costs and dispensing fees.

What this means for your neighborhood pharmacy

Although the Direct2U pharmacy service saves students and universities money, they are competing with community pharmacies for business.

“Taking business away from local pharmacies was something we debated about,” says Collins, “But students could be saving a lot of money.”

The SMU health centre offered a similar pharmacy delivery service more than 10 years ago when they partnered with Shoppers Drug Mart on Fenwick Street. When Shoppers changed hands and stopped offering prescription delivery, SMUSA implemented Direct2U in January of 2011.

Competition with Direct2U is only one of the concerns of Quinpool Medicine Shoppe pharmacy manager Sharon Oxner.

“What concerns me is that doctors may not know all the drugs and supplements that patients are taking, and all the interactions between them,” she said.

With Direct2U, students have 24/7 access to a pharmacist if they have any questions about their medications. However, it is the responsibility of the student to disclose all their health information and current medication list, including prescriptions filled at other pharmacies, so the pharmacist can ensure there are no drug interactions.