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Customers leaving the Shoppers Drug Mart store on Yonge St. near St.Clair Ave., on March 17, 2020.

Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. is opening medical clinics in Toronto where family physicians will be available to take on a roster of patients and accept appointments for walk-in services.

The pharmacy chain says its first pilot clinic opened in the city’s midtown with two more planned for the Greater Toronto Area over the next year, including one in the downtown core.

The clinic is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, but closes at 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on the weekend right now, but the clinic is planning to expand its hours in the fall.

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Two of the five physicians listed on its website are accepting new patients, for family medicine, primary care gynecology and sexually transmitted infection testing, although the clinic also said it wants to expand walk-in availability going forward.

Shoppers, which is owned by Loblaw Cos. Ltd., has been expanding beyond traditional retail and says it has created a team of physicians to implement the health clinic business.

Managing clinics is not an area of expertise or interest for most doctors, said Theresa Firestone, senior vice-president of health and wellness at Shoppers Drug Mart.

“So that’s something that we felt that we could help them with, by taking that administrative burden and allowing them to spend all of their practising time dealing directly with patients,” she said in an interview.

“Particularly, we saw during COVID-19, a lot of physicians were not set up to do virtual care. So we were able to help our physicians in the clinic.”

The bricks-and-mortar clinic in Toronto comes on the heels of a service launched last month in British Columbia, which offered in-store telehealth appointments. Patients using the B.C. service receive an examination by a doctor – by way of a video call on a website called Maple – but can also use in-store tools such as rapid strep tests.

“Our focus over the last few years has been really expanding our health and wellness offering to customers to make sure that not only do they have the core pharmacy offerings that we have, but a number of other health care options available to them. A lot of that occurs through our stores. A lot of those health care offerings also occur through some of our other businesses,” Ms. Firestone said.

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“A number of our patients that come to the store to get a prescription, they’ll have challenges to get access to primary care … during COVID-19 we saw more and more people having those challenges.”

In addition to the new medical clinics, the company licenses or owns 47 “Simply Pharmacy” medical clinic pharmacies and two stand-alone cosmetic dermatology clinics.

Shoppers has also tested partnerships to offer online cognitive behavioural therapy programs and nutrition consultations in some provinces.

“It varies how pharmacists in different provinces are able to assess patients and prescribe,” Ms. Firestone said.

While Alberta pharmacists are able to prescribe most products, she said there are other provinces it can’t support in the same way.

If the foray into clinic management – as opposed to just clinics as tenants – is successful, the model could expand beyond Ontario, the company said.

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“We are committed to getting this right for our patients and once the model is validated and refined we hope to reach more Canadians by expanding clinics to other parts of the country,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.

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