Assessing the Current and Future Landscape of Pharmacy

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A panel discussion at the Outcomes 2024 SYNC National Conference touched upon many important themes in community pharmacy, including the evolving role of pharmacists, emerging tech, and key challenges going forward.

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that community pharmacists have been dealing with a multitude of challenges over the past several years. From rising prescription drug costs and shrinking revenue to workforce shortages and employee burnout, the continually evolving landscape can often seem extremely difficult to navigate successfully.

Pharmacy with medicine on shelves / Piman Khrutmuang - stock.adobe.com

Pharmacy with medicine on shelves / Piman Khrutmuang - stock.adobe.com

At the Outcomes 2024 SYNC National Conference, held February 23-25 in Orlando, Florida, a panel discussion touched upon many important themes in the current community pharmacy environment. The talk, hosted by Jude Dieterman, CEO of Outcomes, included topics such as the changing role of the pharmacist, emerging technology, and key challenges for the profession going forward.

The Evolving Role of Pharmacists

“I think we're at a pretty pivotal time in our in our profession,” said Brett Barker, PharmD, vice president of operations at NuCara. “Obviously, there's a lot of pressures on us this year that are pretty intense. But I also think there's a lot of opportunity.”

Barker emphasized the fact that the pharmacy field has spent the past several decades raising its education levels, not only for pharmacists, but for pharmacy technicians, as well. This has allowed for operating at the highest level and has also proven to the health care system that pharmacists and technicians are capable of handling much more than they have been allowed in the past. Barker, who is running for Iowa House District 51, said that pharmacy education teaches many things that pharmacists can’t actually provide on the frontlines, which he believes is holding the profession back.

Stacey Emmons, PharmD, director of patient outcomes and adherence at Walgreens, added that the role of the pharmacist really expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacists stepped up in a big way during the public health crisis and took on a significant expansion of services, such as providing vaccines and conducting testing to throngs of new patients.

READ MORE: Pharmacies Can Leverage Clinical Opportunities to Diversify, Increase Revenue

“How do we continue to show up as an accessible healthcare provider and [make sure] patients understand that they can come to pharmacy for things outside of dispensing, immunizations—the things that have been really baked in to understanding pharmacy,” Emmons said. “It's not just change management from our pharmacy team…it's really multifaceted across all these different groups to ensure that we're all working together towards the same goal and providing health care in a broader space.”

Technology Fostering Communication

The advancement of technology over the last decade has helped independent pharmacists in a significant way. New automation tools have improved workflows while increasing patient safety, and artificial intelligence is making communication between pharmacist and patient simpler. Emmons noted that taking an omnichannel approach is the most important thing for all pharmacists to keep in mind.

“Taking in the data and being able to utilize that through digital engagement, through a platform that allows you to have the most information at the point that you're trying to take care of the patient, is going to be the most efficient and holistic way to take care of that patient,” Emmons said. If you have somebody sitting right in front of you and you're dispensing the script, but you can also see the clinical needs, you can take care of that right there. They don't have to make an appointment to come [later].”

Another key technological improvement is telepharmacy, which allows pharmacists to provide care through telecommunications and information technologies to patients at a distance. Barker said that his pharmacies have been utilizing telepharmacy services since they became available and that they have helped his pharmacists reach patients they otherwise would not have been able to.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on March 13, 2024.

Read more of our coverage from the Outcomes 2024 SYNC National Conference here.

Reference
1. Nguyen A, Kim S. Mapping Healthcare Deserts: 80% of the Country Lacks Adequate Access to Healthcare. News Release. GoodRx. September 9, 2021. Accessed February 24, 2024. https://www.goodrx.com/healthcare-access/research/healthcare-deserts-80-percent-of-country-lacks-adequate-healthcare-access
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