A bill that would have allowed pharmacists to test and treat for the flu or strep infections was shelved Tuesday in a state Senate committee meeting, after pushback from physicians and committee members about patients bypassing their primary care providers.
SB 524, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would have given pharmacists the ability to conduct a basic swab test for flu or strep throat and dispense treatment such as prescription Tamiflu or antibiotics, without patients going to the doctor first to be diagnosed.
Though the bill would have required pharmacists to undergo an eight hour certification course, multiple physicians cited concerns at the meeting that pharmacists would still not have the medical training to adequately diagnose the flu or any complications a patient might have from a basic test.
Michael Forsthoefel, a general internist in Tallahassee associated with the Florida Medical Association, said the mouth swab tests were imprecise compared to a trained doctor's clinical diagnosis and that older, higher risk patients might develop related medical issues after contracting the flu which a pharmacist might not be equipped to treat.
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“The flu itself doesn’t kill people — it’s the complications,” he said. “This is what a pharmacist is not trained to screen out.”
Suzanne Wise, president of the Florida Pharmacy Association, countered that for some patients without access to a provider, the bill would allow them to receive treatment they might not otherwise get. Pharmacists, she said, are "their access point to this care."
This year's flu season has seen one of the nation's worst outbreaks in nearly 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Jan. 27, more than 14,600 people have been hospitalized with confirmed cases of the virus, and the federal agency has received reports of at least 53 pediatric deaths.
Brandes moved to "temporarily postpone" his own bill after multiple members of the committee said they would not be able to support the legislation, contending it overly expanded pharmacists' scope of practice. But he disputed that the legislation would have encroached on physicians' authority to diagnose patients.
“This is about access for someone who doesn’t have a physician at all,” he said, adding he hopes to bring the legislation back next year.