The pharmacist's role in the 21st century

October 15, 2010

From medication therapy management to diabetes self-management education programs, retail pharmacists have begun to solidify a new role for themselves on the healthcare team.

Key Points

For years, pharmacists have evolved with the circumstances of healthcare and responded with resilience and creativity. Retail pharmacy has recently begun a transformation of its own, with independent and chain drug stores initiating "clinically oriented programs" to improve patient care as well as to differentiate themselves from the competition. As a result, many outside the pharmacy profession are warming to the idea of their neighborhood pharmacists moving beyond the dispensing of medications to becoming a viable part of the "healthcare decision-making team."

From medication therapy management (MTM) to diabetes self-management education programs, retail pharmacists have begun to solidify a new role for themselves on the healthcare team, and who could argue? As physician third-party reimbursement continues to decline, physicians have been forced to increase the number of their daily patient encounters, shortening the amount of time they can spend educating their chronic care patients. A pharmacist, on the other hand, is the most accessible healthcare professional and is highly skilled in disease management and chronic care education. Therefore, pharmacists all over the country in retail practices are beginning to specialize and act as health coaches, most notably in diabetes management. Whether teaching classes for large groups, managing intensive therapy programs, or initiating patients in the use of insulin pumps, pharmacists are serving a much-needed role in improving outcomes and, in turn, are lowering overall healthcare costs.

Payment for services

As pharmacists consider offering cognitive services in their drugstores, many are concerned about who will be paying for these services. Already available for third-party reimbursement are such services as immunizations, diabetes self-management education, and MTM. Working with chronic care patients has a significant effect on a pharmacy's bottom line. The top 1% of diabetes patients, for example, will spend $24,000 each year in the pharmacy. In other words, pharmacists who perform these clinical services are also attracting patients who will bolster the pharmacy's financial underpinnings.

Pharmacies all over the country are beginning to adopt the health-coach model for improving patient care. Chronic care management programs not only aim to improve patient outcomes but also serve to attract new customers. In the past, a few pharmacists have expressed concern that pharmacy was moving away from a product-based profession to a service-based model. If we are to continue to evolve, however, we must embrace both mindsets, knowing that provision of clinical services in the retail setting leads to increased prescription volumes.

In the end, patients will be the greatest winners as pharmacists continue to evolve.

David Pope is a pharmacist at Barney's Pharmacy, Augusta, Ga., and is the editor-in-chief of http://CreativePharmacist.com/ and http://TheHealthyHeartClub.com/.

The opinions expressed by guest editorial writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Drug Topics' staff or the staff of Advanstar Communications.