Pharmacists need to unite, raise their professional profile, and go on the offense politically

October 13, 2008

The pharmacy profession needs to turn around its Rodney Dangerfield attitude and start focusing on goals that serve its members as well as the community.

Key Points

The past few decades have resulted in extraordinary changes in pharmacy business and in the professional practice of pharmacy. We have failed to realize long-term prosperity from these changes, mainly because of the fragmentation of our profession. Self-serving elements of our profession are determined to claim they are somehow better than the rest of us. These claims are often based on an academic degree (PharmD versus BS Pharm) or the type of practice (hospital versus chain versus independent). We often spin our wheels politically and fail to get our message across to the public. It's time we worked to reverse the fragmentation of our profession. We must focus on activities that enable us to enhance our image and achieve our political goals.

We can't begin to improve our public image unless we present a clear, unified identity to the public. The first, and most important, thing we must do is use the title "Pharmacist" followed by first and last name when we make or take phone calls; our staff should use it when waiting on patients and referring to us. We can then take advantage of thousands of otherwise wasted opportunities to promote our value to the public and other healthcare professionals.

Next, we need to do a better job of informing our patients about the services we provide them. Unless we tell them, they won't realize that we review dosing, evaluate potential interactions and side effects, respond to drug utilization reviews (DURs) and resolve insurance issues. These are all vital services. Patients need to be aware of these activities and they need to understand their importance. If we don't tell them, our patients will have no idea.

We also can become more effective politically. Many pharmacists have a "top-down" impression of how politics works. I consider this the billionaire's view of politics. For most of us to be effective, we have to realize that all politics are local. This "bottom-up" approach means that our most effective primary efforts involve educating the public. This is another important reason to use the title "pharmacist" followed by first and last name.

Unlike physicians and other professionals who take their message directly to the public through venues such as The Wall Street Journal, we tend to expend our efforts "singing to the choir" by voicing our concerns within our own media. We must make an effort to inform patients about the political issues that will have an impact on their health care. Discussing issues, publishing a patient newsletter and writing letters to the editor of your local paper are some of the ways this can be accomplished. In this connection, it is important for us to address issues by focusing on the patient instead of ourselves.

The next step of the "bottom-up" approach is to support our state associations. State pharmacy associations can effectively represent our interests if we take an active role. They cannot be expected to solve our problems for us. They can be expected to coordinate, facilitate and empower us so that we will be more effective in our efforts.

Participation in a national association is another important step in political empowerment. The fragmentation of our profession has left us without a single, unified voice, but the recent trend among associations such as NACDS and NCPA to achieve victories by working together represents a major improvement.

Finally, each of us should establish a relationship with our elected representatives before calling upon them for assistance. When we do ask for assistance, it is always more effective to discuss the impact on our patients (multiple votes) rather than ourselves (one vote). Pharmacy associations can guide and assist us in these activities.

Remember, all politics are local. If we fail to educate our patients, we will not be as effective in getting our voice heard in the upper levels of the political process. If we do not change our ways, we will be left behind.