Columbus, OH – 10/7/2021.
Written by Cathy Kuhn, PharmD, BCACP, FAPhA, Chief Pharmacy Officer for Health in Motion Network
If you polled your non-healthcare friends, how many of them would be able to give a comprehensive answer to the question, what does a pharmacist do? The most obvious and common response would be, well, they fill prescriptions. What isn’t as widely known, however, is the vast scope of services these doctorate-level healthcare professionals are also equipped to provide in support of patient care and coordination.
Part of the challenge pharmacists have faced in seeking broader recognition as healthcare providers is the demand imposed by prescriptions. Pharmacists often fill hundreds of prescriptions in a single day, at a rate that is barely sustainable, especially when viewed in the context of low reimbursements. How, then, can pharmacists contribute more comprehensively to patient care when their entire days are taken up with medication dispensing?
To start, a valuable service pharmacists can provide is helping patients streamline their prescriptions, including eliminating any that may be unnecessary, and coordinating prescription schedules for better efficiency. This, in general terms, is referred to as medication optimization, or medication synchronization. Patients whose medications are overseen by a qualified pharmacist often can save money and experience better outcomes. Pharmacists can help patients learn about the importance of adherence, and are positioned to have insight into why a patient may be struggling to keep up with a medication regimen.
Pharmacists are skilled patient educators. For example, increasing numbers of community pharmacists are offering courses through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Diabetes Prevention Program. Pharmacists can also counsel patients on smoking cessation and weight loss, among other wellness priorities.
At the community level, pharmacists are great champions of their patients. Pharmacies are often the most accessible healthcare delivery location in rural and other underserved geographies. People consistently report having high trust in pharmacists, which induces patients to seek care they may otherwise forego, such as immunizations.
Without question, the practice of pharmacy is evolving. Arguably, it has to. And it seems patients are there for it. Throughout COVID, patients have turned to pharmacies for testing and immunization, care and support. Patients are pushing pharmacies to adopt technology and digital tools that make it easier to communicate about a medication question, request an appointment for an immunization, or receive guidance about chronic care management.
There are no quick fixes. Those hundreds of prescriptions per day still have to get filled. But there are promising signs, for example with pharmacists receiving emergency federal authorization to deliver authorized COVID therapeutics through the PREP Act. Pharmacists are healthcare providers, valid and important members of a patient’s care team. Understanding the full breadth and depth of their professional capabilities is a good start.