Government agency issues report on R.Ph. shortage
Pharmacist job openings span all settings and are not expected to be filled soon, HHS says
There aren't enough licensed pharmacists, and the shortage is going to grow, according to a report by the Department of Health & Human Services. Conducted at the request of Congress, the report said the delivery of quality health care already is being strained by a sharp increase in the demand for pharmacist services. It found that the number of full-time and part-time vacancies in community pharmacies has jumped 160% in the past two yearsfrom 2,700 in February 1998 to nearly 7,000 last February.
"This shortage is considered a dynamic shortage since it appears to be due to a rapid increase in the demand for pharmacists coupled with a constrained ability to increase the supply of pharmacists," said the report, prepared by HHS' Health Resources & Services Administration. "The factors causing the current shortage are of a nature not likely to abate in the near future without fundamental changes in pharmacy practice and education."
Despite the increased demand, the number of newly licensed R.Ph.s is expected to climb by only 28,500 in the next 10 years. That is 800 fewer than came on board in the previous decade. Currently, there are approximately 196,000 licensed pharmacists.
"We must fully utilize pharmacists' medication-use and drug-safety expertise, but I fear that the potential for serious medication errors can only increase as pharmacists are asked to do more and more with less and less," noted William A. Zellmer, deputy v.p. of ASHP. He said the association is proposing new federal funding to encourage pharmacy schools to expand enrollments and postgraduate pharmacy residency training.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the prime mover in persuading Congress to order the study, said state and federal policymakers should take steps to increase the use of technicians and automation in pharmacies. "We need to adopt policies that will increase the supply of pharmacists, as well as enhance efficiencies in pharmacy practice that can reduce administrative burdens and provide opportunities for more pharmacist/patient interaction," said Craig L. Fuller, NACDS president.
The National Community Pharmacists Association said modest increases in pharmacy school enrollments, with a greater emphasis on community practice, was one way to address the shortages. NCPA also suggested that more effective management of technicians and the use of automation and dispensing technologies were other steps that could be taken.
The American Pharmaceutical Association said distribution-system inefficiencies must be addressed, including clearer prescription transmission to reduce errors and cut clarification time, and suggested that R.Ph.s be given the intended use and goal of therapy. "The utilization review systems create an extraordinary amount of distracting 'noise' in current systems," added John A. Gans, APhA executive v.p. "We need to achieve consensus on where priorities should be placed in algorithms and messaging to improve communication of important information with more intelligible messages."
The study found that the R.Ph. shortage results in less time to counsel, job stress, poor working conditions, less professional satisfaction, greater potential for fatigue-related errors, and fewer pharmacy school faculty because of their recruitment into the workforce.
Mike Conlan. Pharmacist job openings span all settings and are not expected to be filled soon. Drug Topics 2001;1:10.