Could changes in pharmacy law co-opt the pharmacist's professional role?

September 12, 2005

A clinical pharmacist colleague remarks to you, "Dispensing pharmacists could lose their jobs with all the changes coming in pharmacy law," and says he's glad it won't affect him.

A: Economic pressure from the pharmacist shortage and the public's increasing use of prescription drugs are triggering dramatic changes in both the marketplace and pharmacy law. Consider these changes, which will have an impact on every pharmacist:

Why should clinical R.Ph.s care if patients receive drugs from someone other than a U.S.-licensed pharmacist? Community pharmacy is the profession's public face, and public opinion and respect (or lack thereof) for the neighborhood R.Ph. affects legislation, insurance, and the patient's understanding of what pharmacists do.

Some patients use Internet sources for drugs and completely bypass the medical care system. Physicians depend on the pharmacy refill process to get patients into the office for regular exams. What if a large percentage of today's pharmacists lost their jobs, or if dispensing became the province of a much less educated practitioner? What would the marketplace demand of R.Ph.s still employed, and for what wage? Every pharmacist has experienced understaffing, long hours, and even cashed-out vacation time, but every pharmacist should still make an effort to support quality dispensing and the use of U.S.-regulated drugs by all U.S. patients.

Professionals should look for opportunities to speak to patients, individually or in groups, about how prescription drugs should be dispensed, and why. That is why you are a pharmacist and not a dispensing machine and why you can't be effectively replaced.

Clinical pharmacy services can also be co-opted. Internet medical references and bloggers imply that anyone who can read can manage drugs. Watch the line of patients having thyroid and A1c labs drawn at the local shopping center and envision what could happen to medical care. As they chatter proudly about their last batch of cheap bootlegged drugs, envision what could happen to pharmacy.

The author has practiced long-term care and community pharmacy in Oregon for more than a decade and has served on numerous professional and community boards.