How Next-generation Pharmacists Will Change the Industry
By Ronald P. Jordan, RPh, FAPhA
Even though it’s only been around a couple of decades, it’s hard to remember a time before the smartphone. In fact, it’s all that current pharmacy school students and recent graduates have ever known. For them, digital platforms weren’t seen as innovations so much as they were just a part of life. From social media and online video games to virtual education and business tools, these tech-savvy pharmacists have been immersed in technology since day one.1-3
As the next generation of pharmacists enters the workforce, their ingrained understanding of technology could be their biggest asset.2,4,5 But how will pharmacists who grew up in the digital age use these tools to benefit their patients and pharmacies? This article explores the role of younger pharmacists in operationalizing tech-enabled services to navigate public health and practice.
Shaping the Modern Day Pharmacist
Just as technology is a mainstay in everyday life, it is a staple in healthcare—and veteran providers have adapted to it. For example, the first automated dispensing cabinets hit hospitals in the 1980s. For pharmacists, medication therapy management (MTM) was first introduced with the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.6 By the time the law went into effect in 2006, automated options for comprehensive medication management and reconciliation platforms were already gearing up for wide-spread usage.7,8
More recently, telehealth solutions have seen a massive surge in use, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.9,10 Telehealth solutions, like virtual visits and remote patient monitoring, have made healthcare more accessible.3,11
With many patients visiting their local pharmacist about twice as often as they see their primary care physician, pharmacists offer a more accessible option for services like vaccinations, point-of-care testing, and wellness checks.9,11-13 As the role of the pharmacist as a care provider grows, professional pharmacist organizations are advocating for a payment model that recognizes provider status under Medicare Part B, making non-dispensary pharmacy services more accessible to patients who receive Medicare.14
As one of my colleagues, Karl Hess, PharmD, Associate Professor at Chapman University, recently put it, “In general, I don’t think we do a good enough job explaining the importance of advocacy and legislative change to our students. We train them to be able to work at the top of their license, but they’re only doing the basic stuff when they go into practice—and that’s not what we want to happen.”
Digital Fluency for Improved Care Delivery
Thanks to a lifetime of experience with technology, younger pharmacists tend to be more comfortable when it comes to using telehealth services and medication management tools.3,11 These digital solutions help to assess and monitor patients for improved medication regimens, adherence, and outcomes—ultimately promoting patient loyalty as well.15
But in-person visits will always be necessary. As digital pharmacists step into expanded clinical roles, they must work harder to build patient trust.12,16 Digital services should be balanced with clear and confident in-person communication to establish that trust.12,16,17 “It’s important to have the face-to-face,” continued Dr. Hess. “I think people who choose independent pharmacies like that personal touch, so to speak—but they also like the flexibility of us coming to them, whether through delivery or telepharmacy.”
The Digital Generation
The digital generation is well suited to drive pharmacy innovation because these individuals don’t face the same learning curve as earlier generations of pharmacists. Instead, they stand to benefit from an inherent knowledge of technology. By combining their technical expertise with a focus on communication and patient rapport, new pharmacists can promote optimal clinical and business practices. I predict that these young clinicians will develop innovative technology-enabled solutions that may well revolutionize the practice of pharmacy.
While earlier generations of pharmacists have adopted digital technology, the latest generation of pharmacists grew up with it
For tech-savvy pharmacists, digital platforms aren’t something new that requires an adjustment; they are just a part of life
Life-long digital experience may provide a technical advantage, but in-person care is still vital to pharmacy care
As new pharmacists enter the field, their ability to operationalize digital tools gives them unlimited potential
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