Loud and clear: Getting pharmacy's message across

October 8, 2007

Pharmacists must stand up for themselves and become a united voice if they hope to live up to their billing as one of the most trusted professions.

Pharmacy associations acknowledge they are behind the eight ball.

Take the lack of provider status under Medicare and Medicaid. That has hamstrung efforts to obtain reimbursement for professional services, said William Zellmer, deputy executive VP of ASHP. Pharmacy remains dependent on product-based reimbursement. "I lay the blame clearly at our own feet," he said. "If the profession had been more developed, more organized, in the 1960s, we might have gotten provider status when Medicare was first enacted. Instead, we are part of a coalition working to get provider status today."

That's good news to one of pharmacy's newest supporters, the Food Marketing Institute. Pharmacy represents 10% of grocery revenues, said FMI president and CEO Tim Hammonds, but pharmacists have a reputation as lone wolves, not partners. "Pharmacists don't always think of joining forces with groups facing similar issues," he said.

"Pharmacists missed the chance to push for their own future," said Ojo, author of Pharmacy in Bondage, an examination of what he calls a topsy-turvy world where physician assistants and nurse practitioners can prescribe, but Pharm.D.s cannot. "Pharmacy ended up being classed with acupuncture, naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic, and other practices as being nonscientific. It has taken us nearly 100 years to get to MTM [medication therapy management], the first legal recognition of our own specialty area, pharmacotherapy."

Pharmacy's poor performance is no surprise in hindsight, said Kristina Lunner, VP of government affairs for the American Pharmacists Association. Pharmacy has not done a good job of communicating its value beyond pharmacy. "An eight-year-old can probably tell you what a dentist or a firefighter does," she said. "Those groups have done a very good job of communicating their value to the public. But you're not going to find many eight-year-olds who can tell you what a pharmacist does. Our core task is to make very clear how pharmacists help people."