As change continues to sweep the industry, we take a closer look at the trends that may be coming to a pharmacy near you.
The long reach of the COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed every industry, including pharmacy. Although many industries have worked to adapt or survive, the variety of issues affected by the pandemic has triggered positive shifts in community pharmacy practice overall, according to Bri Morris, PharmD, senior director of program development at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) in Alexandria, Virginia.
Across the country, many pharmacists have long been waiting to practice closer to the top of their licenses. These emerging trends offer community pharmacists unprecedented opportunities to do exactly that. Here are some potential pharmacy trends to watch in 2022.
Expect to See an Uptick in Point-of-Care Services
Community pharmacies increased their point-of-care testing services during the pandemic—a feat that Morris says many pharmacists have “embraced…to meet their patients’ immediate needs.”
“Now that so many pharmacists have [obtained] their CLIA [Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments] certificates of waiver and introduced COVID-19 testing into their regular practice, there is an opportunity to branch into other acute infectious disease and chronic disease management,” Morris told Drug Topics®. “In many states, pharmacists are able to test and treat these patients for minor ailments as well.”
Immunization Services Are Here to Stay
Immunization services have been trending in pharmacy for years, and the surge in recommended infectious diseases immunizations has only increased patient demand. Yet despite the apparent opportunity, providing these services remains a significant pain point for pharmacists on the front line, who often operate under the mounting pressure of meeting high prescription volumes with minimal staff support. Morris, though, is optimistic that recent technological interventions and logistic strategies have helped alleviate some of the pressure.
“Now community pharmacies have adopted scheduling platforms and designed a staffing workflow to integrate immunizations into pharmacy workflow,” she said. “Gaps still exist in routine immunizations for both adults and children, and community pharmacies can meet those gaps.” The numbers speak for themselves: As of November 9, 2021, community pharmacies and federal programs had administered and reported nearly 163 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to data collected by the NCPA. This number does not include the data for vaccine doses administered and reported by state-administered programs.
Expanding Roles for Pharmacy Technicians
The soaring demand for immunizations has expanded roles for pharmacy technicians. Much like the pharmacist’s role, that of pharmacy technicians’ has evolved over the years, and the concept of expanding the services that technicians provide is not new either.1 The COVID-19 pandemic led to the declaration of the Public Readiness and Preparedness (PREP) Act. Initially enacted by Congress on December 30, 2005, the PREP Act endows the secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services with the authority to declare the act whenever an emergent event poses a threat to public health.
In the pharmacy world, the PREP Act allows medical professionals to engage in the provision of services that may exceed their ordinary scope of services under usual circumstances, in an effort to address the shortage of responders and improve the availability of services and resources.2 On February 2, 2021, Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Norris Cochran moved to amend the PREP Act declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic to define the list of individuals able to prescribe, dispense, and administer vaccines. The amendments culminated with one defining pharmacy technicians as “qualified persons” able to administer the seasonal influenza vaccine to adults in the state in which they are legally allowed to practice.
Secretary Xavier Becerra was responsible for the final amendment, which also grants pharmacist interns similar authority to administer seasonal influenza vaccines to the adult population. The act also allows pharmacy technicians to facilitate point-of care testing during the pandemic. Both pharmacy technician–provided immunizations and point-of-care services require pharmacist supervision. Morris anticipates that these services temporarily allowed by the PREP Act are the gateway for an entire suite of services that pharmacy can expect to fall under technician ownership.
“This expansion of scope combined with increased workforce demands brings about new roles for pharmacy technicians,” Morris said. “Medical billing specialist, immunization administrator, med sync [medication synchronization] lead, and community health worker are just a few of the titles we can expect technicians will have in the coming years.”
At Home Services Will Expand
“With more than 10,000 Americans aging into Medicare daily, providing medical-at-home services to keep patients who might otherwise be in a nursing home in the familiarity of their homes is a patient care no-brainer, and many pharmacies are currently caring for these patients,” Morris explained. “Currently, the incentives and payment don’t match the effort.”
However, Morris anticipates that the historically poor reimbursement for the services that pharmacies provide will change with services that allow patients to age in place. For example, a new clinically integrated network focused on helping patients age in place, combined with advocacy efforts led by NCPA’s long term care division, helps pharmacies capitalize on potential business opportunities.
According to its website,3 NCPA has asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to formally “recognize medical at-home pharmacy services regardless of where the patient resides.” The Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Networks (CPESN) USA started CPESN At-Home, a new network that contracts for enhanced services designed to address the needs of patients. Such patients would otherwise be candidates for a nursing facility, including those who are homebound, have trouble accessing a pharmacy, or require some level of caregiving assistance.
“You, as the pharmacist, are able to provide the same level of care that that same patient would receive in the nursing home, but you’d provide it at their home,” Morris said.
Improvements in a pharmacists’ longstanding battle for formal recognition by the US government and payors as health care providers continues, and with that comes the challenge not only of seeking compensation but also of gaining respect. However, a 2021 article by Deloitte, The Pharmacist of the Future,4 suggests that a lack of the latter may prove advantageous from an accessibility standpoint.
“Pharmacists are not seen as authority figures the way that doctors are seen,” said an anonymous educator and research scientist who was quoted in the article.” [I]in a way, that’s probably sad, but what it means is that the pharmacist is more approachable than the doctor, and that can be really useful.”
The article’s authors also highlighted how pharmacists’ approachability, coupled with frequent patient contact, automatically enhances the opportunity to build trust. The patient-pharmacist rapport establishes a gateway into the patients’ worlds, with pharmacists able to form a bond that allows them to take a deep dive into their patients’ experiences and collect vital problem-solving information.
Being central figures in the health care equation uniquely allows pharmacists to identify additional resources for their patients and help them navigate the health care system. Watching these and other trends unfold over the past year suggests the consulting firm’s crystal ball is quite clear. Only time can tell how the industry will truly take shape.