Clinical pharmacists advance into all areas of medical treatment

February 25, 2008

The role of hospital pharmacists has changed as they continue to advanced into all areas of medical treatment.

Homestead Hospital is a small community facility near Miami with about 120 beds. Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., part of a huge health system stretching from North Dakota to Nebraska, is five times larger. The two hospitals have this in common: Both are recent recipients of national awards for quality care. And in both hospitals, the awards would not have happened without staff pharmacists being assertively involved in direct patient care, say facility administrators, the awarding organizations, and the pharmacists themselves.

"We are committed to strong collaborative efforts between our pharmacy staff and other medical personnel," said Steve Petersen, Pharm.D., director of pharmacy at Avera McKennan, a recipient of several 2007 Awards for Quality from the healthcare alliance Premier Inc. "That commitment begins with how we, as pharmacists, see ourselves. We believe we are part of a medical team. That is our professional commitment. So, as a result, we are."

That means managing medications, not just dispensing drugs. It means intervening in patient care as needed, developing treatment protocols and health plan data mining software, counseling patients, and holding other professionals accountable for the quality of care they deliver.

Emerging roles

Kamakshi Rao, Pharm.D., is a University of North Carolina Hospital clinical pharmacist specializing in oncology. She works in ambulatory cancer treatment centers. "Gaining recognition as a provider has taken time," she said. "But I find that more all the time, I am heard among my colleagues. My years of training are increasingly appreciated, in part because I know what I have to offer."

That self-image-and the recognition as patient care providers it in turn creates-marks an advance for the profession, and it's taken some time to achieve. "It has been a long and sometimes difficult process to get to the current level of recognition as providers of care," said Webb.