Need for R.Ph.s to skyrocket


A shortfall of up to 157,000 pharmacists by 2020 is predicted by attendees at Pharmacy Manpower Project conference. More pharmacists will be needed to deliver the patient care services aging baby boomers are going to need, conference attendees concluded.



Need for R.Ph.s to skyrocket

There could be a shortfall of as many as 157,000 pharmacists to provide the patient care services aging baby boomers will need by 2020, according to a report generat- ed by attendees at a conference sponsored by the Pharmacy Manpower Project Inc.

By 2020, annual prescription volume could top 7.2 billion scripts due to the long-awaited impact of baby boomers, who will begin to turn 60 in four years. The 24 pharmacy experts attending the conference examined the services patients need and projected the number of R.Ph.s required to deliver those services. The attendees addressed the need for pharmacists, not the actual demand for R.Ph.s or their services in the future.

Given today's statistics on medication misuse and the unintended consequences of drug therapy, some argue that society already needs those additional pharmacists to focus on patient care services. "We're talking about how quickly demand and need match up," said conference attendee Lucinda Maine, executive v.p., American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

Despite soaring projections for Rx volume, the need for dispensing pharmacists will drop from the current level of 130,400 to 100,000 by 2020. Information technology, automation, robotics, and maximum use of ancillary personnel will decrease the need for R.Ph.s involved in distributive functions. However, the need for pharmacists to provide primary patient care by managing medication use will skyrocket to 165,000 in two decades, compared with the 30,000 involved today.

Only about 18,000 pharmacists currently provide secondary and tertiary pharmacy services to institutionalized patients, including acute care, assisted living, hospice, as well as drug use safety and policy. In 20 years, the number of pharmacists needed for such services will top 128,000. And the nonpatient care pharmacy services for the pharmaceutical industry, academia, regulatory and government agencies, pharmacy informatics, and consulting employ about 12,300, compared with the 21,750 that will be needed by 2020.

Expansion of pharmacy roles will depend on changes in reimbursement methods, improvements in electronic communication, changes in the regulatory environment, support from other health professions and health-system leaders, and the willingness of pharmacists to take on new roles, the report concluded.

The key to pharmacists being redirected from dispensing to patient care is whether the system will compensate them, said Maine. "That is the most significant question that will determine when and if demand matches societal need. And the rate of that change is very important because we can't create new pharmacists that fast." The full report, "Professionally Determined Need for Pharmacy Services in 2020," is posted on the Web at, under Resources and Reports.

Carol Ukens

Current use and projected need for R.Ph.s*

Use of R.Ph.s in 2001
Projected need for R.Ph.s in 2020
Order fulfillment
Primary patient services
Secondary/tertiary services
Indirect/Other services
Total estimated supply


Carol Ukens. Need for R.Ph.s to skyrocket.

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