Pharmacies play a significant part in the distribution of health care services in Canada. In comparison to the public healthcare network, which tends to be in a constant state of crisis, the pharmacy sector operates as a regular business. We may not see media headlines pointing to the “prolonged wait times for pharmacy services,” the “system crisis” or the failure of a large part of the community to find a “family local pharmacist.” On the other hand, there are a hundred studies on the deficiencies of the public health system and on patients’ challenges in receiving care. While it exists in a context that is marked by a high level of government interference, the pharmaceutical industry is fundamentally focused on market mechanisms which have been established time after time again: innovation, entrepreneurship and personal freedom for customers.
All of the pharmacies in Canada are non-profit organizations that absolutely nobody really complains at all about. Pharmacies adapt effectively and rapidly to the needs of the community. However, this is not the case in most of the countries. European countries place unreasonable regulation on pharmacies, thus actively discouraging competition and severely penalizing consumers. Still, there are especially valuable lessons to be learned from the case of Sweden, where almost four decades of public monopoly experiments in the pharmaceutical industry have proven to be a resounding failure.
The list of pharmacies in Canada has grown steadily over the last ten years. The highest number of pharmacies per capita is located in the Atlantic provinces. In Newfoundland and Labrador, there are no less than 3.61 pharmacies every 10,000 people. In Quebec, it is the province with the smallest, with 2.22 pharmacies every 10,000 people. Generally, while there are variations between the provinces of Canada, it is clear that pharmacies function in a highly competitive market. This rivalry is taking place on a variety of fronts:
- geographical location and opening hours;
- the costs of products and services;
- the selection of products to be offered;
- the quality of the services provided;
- tools for marketing.
A public hospital in the current system does not benefit much until it is preferred by patients over the other hospital, which is yet another story in the pharmaceutical industry. A pharmacy has every reason to offer its clients the best quality experience, because if it doesn’t, they’re going somewhere else. Competition allows them to deliver a wide variety of goods and services that are appreciated by the public. Canadian pharmacies are characterized by their outstanding availability. Most pharmacies are open 7 days a week and some are available 24 hours a day. They’re located in almost every city in the country.
Whereas the national health care system in each province of Canada is unable to satisfy the demands of patients, both private and local pharmacies in Canada continue to deliver the services we demand from them. Without even a doubt, pharmacies also provide health services that are among the most accessible to the community. Just as we’d like to have created a sense of frustration when it comes to long wait times in the public health care sector, we appear to take it for granted that pharmacies will continue to provide reliable services that satisfy the demands of the people, despite the government rules put on them.
Most countries have a great deal to learn from Canada. We might conclude that Canada ought to learn from the failure of undue government control on pharmaceutical services in Europe. For example, the private pharmacy market in Canada, where competition and entrepreneurship are more welcomed, is undoubtedly a model worth celebrating.