Year in Review and 2021 Pharmacy Trends: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

December 29, 2020

Lakesha Butler, PharmD, Drug Topics editorial advisory board member, examines 2020 trends in diversity, equity and inclusion within health care and explores the year ahead.


Drug Topics®: Today I'm speaking with Dr Lakesha Butler, the immediate past president of the National Pharmaceutical Association (NPhA) and member of our editorial advisory board. Before we open up with the topic today, Dr Butler, can you give us a little bit of your professional background and areas of expertise?

Butler: So thank you, Gabrielle, for having me today. I am the immediate past president of NPhA and I am a professor of pharmacy practice at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where I also am the director of diversity, equity and inclusion. As a part of my role within the professor rank, I also serve as an ambulatory care pharmacist at 2 clinics that serve underserved populations, and so my areas of expertise include medication therapy management, chronic disease states, specifically serving underserved populations, health literacy, but also health and racial equity, and cultural humility as well as leadership development.

Drug Topics®: So today, we're discussing key pharmacy trends that occurred over the course of 2020, and what to expect for pharmacy going into the new year. I wanted to focus first on COVID-19, of course, which has brought a lot of changes to pharmacy and health care over the past year. Can you talk a little bit about the trends coming out of the pandemic from 2020?

Butler: Absolutely, I feel like we've learned a lot from the pandemic. Unfortunately, what we've learned, especially as it relates to marginalized communities which has been in existence for quite some time, are the racial and health inequities that are present in specifically people of color populations, such as the African American population, Hispanic, Alaskan native.

In those particular groups, we've learned that the rates of COVID-19, hospitalizations, deaths, were much higher compared to whites. And the reason for that is not because there is any type of genetic difference between those particular groups, but it's certainly due to the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH).

And so I feel like what we've learned, what we can take away from this particular year is, when we are taking care of patients, that is just the tip of the iceberg that we see - it's much more to the patient that we have to dig deeper into and understand more about their SDoH, which include factors such as where they live, play, work, the neighborhoods, their employment, any type of the discrimination that they've encountered, housing, food deserts, so variety of factors that are truly the iceberg, which is what we can't see.

And oftentimes it takes building a relationship, further questioning and especially using open ended questions to learn more, so that we can truly impact in a positive way their health outcomes.

Drug Topics®: So in regard to these disparities due to the pandemic, how do you see this taking place in 2021?

Butler: Well, what I foresee, and I'm very hopeful that now we've shined a light on these -brighter light on these disparities, and we're getting more to the root cause. I think we've really just been addressing the surface, which has unfortunately limited any type of movement or improvement. We've had some improvement, but certainly we have a long way to go. And I'm hopeful that in 2021 now that we truly know the reasons, some of the key reasons behind these health disparities, we can truly and genuinely address them and keep them at the forefront of our work within the health care field.

Drug Topics®: And outside the pandemic too, pharmacy has seen some substantial change trends in the past year. What have been some of those trends throughout 2020?

Butler: I think the work that we're doing is, we're becoming more accessible, we've been accessible, but we're becoming more visible in what we're capable of doing.

So, just recently with the EUA approval, emergency use approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, we're seeing pharmacists; they are the ones that are actually administering the vaccine. So we are definitely coming forward to our rightful place because of our knowledge. I think we're going to continue to see the trends of pharmacists expanding our scope of practice.

We've seen that within the year 2020, and I am hopeful that we'll continue to see that as well. It's been a major focus, we know, with COVID-19. And with that, there's certainly other disease states that we want to be mindful of. But we're being more advocates within our field in 2020, and because of that advocacy, we're once again just seeing the pharmacists moving further to the top of those visible health care workers.

Oftentimes when you hear of the traditional health care workers, you of course hear of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists have been slighted some and so I think, just based on what we've accomplished, what we've been able to do in 2020, this will just further catapult our visibility and our impact and our scope of practice, it will further expand.

Drug Topics®: And there's also a new administration coming in January as well. How do you see the Biden administration? Do you see them ushering in some substantial changes in health care and pharmacy?

Butler: Well, that's a great question. I think the Biden-Harris administration has certainly shown us that science and evidence-based medicine should be at the forefront of our decisions. And as pharmacists, that's how we're taught and how we practice. So I think that will just continue to further our agenda as health care providers. It will hopefully build trust that may have been lost amongst our patients and towards health care providers.

I think the utilization of experts in the field, certainly we've seen a few announcements of the cabinet for the Biden and Harris administration, and many of them are bringing diverse perspectives. But once again, they're experts in their field, and so that certainly brings hope, more provides hope, as relates to health care.

Drug Topics®: And as one of our Drug Topics editorial advisory board members, what do you have to say to our audience of pharmacists, as this year comes to a close and with 2021, on the horizon?

Butler: This has definitely been a tough year, unprecedented, we've heard that word so many times. But I feel that this particular year has taught us or shown us how resilient we are, and just how we can persevere through the tough times.

And during those tough times, that's often when we get uncomfortable, and when we're uncomfortable, we tend to grow and get outside of our comfort zone. So we've had a lot of losses. But I also feel like we've had a lot of gains throughout this this past year. And I just see the sun rising and I feel that there is hope, certainly with the approval of the vaccine. We are just seeing a beacon of hope going into 2021. So I just want to encourage all of my colleagues to stay focused, stay encouraged and know that your impact is really making a difference.

Drug Topics®: Thank you so much for joining me today, Dr. Butler. I really appreciate it.

Butler: Thank you for having me.

Drug Topics®: For more interviews from our editorial advisory board members and other key thought leaders, visit the expert interviews tab on DrugTopics.com.