Pharmacists as Partners in Personalized Patient Care
By Farah Madhat, PharmD, MA
What does it mean to be a provider in today’s healthcare landscape? Accelerated by the introduction of new technologies, the role of community pharmacists has grown substantially over the last 10 years. The corner pharmacy has evolved from a place to refill medications – and maybe stock up on a few additional household needs – to a resource for clinical services and delivery of convenient primary care offerings like medication risk assessments, vaccinations, blood pressure assessments, and even Medicare plan reviews.
In the U.S., more than 90% of patients live within 5 miles of their community pharmacy, and the average patient sees their pharmacist 12 times more often than their primary care provider. That’s why these pharmacies are in a unique position to take on an increased role in primary and preventive care, subsequently freeing up traditional primary care providers to focus on more complex patient needs. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, community pharmacies began offering Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-waived point-of-care tests, as well as vaccinations.1
Simply put, the scope of practice has changed for pharmacists, who now provide consultations, referrals, and point-of-care testing (POCT). In some states, pharmacists have also taken on roles in furnishing hormonal contraceptives, antibiotics, antivirals, initiating preventative therapy, and adjusting current therapies. As such, community pharmacists are further looking to partner with patients and prescribers to offer and enhance personalized care via collaborative practice agreements. In many cases, this means embracing innovation.
Tech Meets Service
In today’s climate, technological advancement is key to innovation. This is especially true regarding the evolution of the healthcare industry. Community pharmacists don’t just need to keep up with new technologies; they must become leaders in a changing healthcare setting to benefit patients and practices. The advent of new digital technologies has already led to faster, smarter automated processes as community pharmacies tailor practices to serve local communities. For example, patient communication via text and telephone reminders helps to improve patient adherence and inform them of critical healthcare milestones.
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how technological developments and interoperability have led to more fluid, transparent, and accessible systems and processes to meet patients’ and health professionals’ expectations. The use of digital platforms, such as electronic health records, telehealth and artificial intelligence, as well as mobile health, wearables, and remote monitoring sensors, has led to improved patient access and continuity of care. This would not have been possible without the COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions.
Digital technologies will continue to drive healthcare innovation. User-friendly intuitive tools now enable community pharmacists to develop a broader understanding of the whole patient to prevent adverse drug events (ADEs) and improve outcomes for both the patient and pharmacy. Powered by proprietary MedWise® Science, a MedWise Safety ReviewTM helps pharmacists improve MTM by assigning a MedWise Risk ScoreTM based on a patient’s current prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and supplements. These platforms allow community pharmacies to monitor for multi-drug interactions and adjust medication regimens proactively.
Despite continuous technological innovation, community pharmacies still face plenty of challenges. For example, direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees on prescriptions under Medicare represent a two-fold financial burden, increasing the cost of patient medication and squeezing pharmacy margins based on inconsistent quality standards. According to the CDC, DIR fees increased by a staggering 91,000% between 2010 and 2017.2 The push for legislative change regarding DIR fees is in progress federally, with current legislation largely determined at the state level. New technologies and workflows present an opportunity to expand revenue without additional staff.
With lives on the line, healthcare institutions must function like well-oiled machines. For community pharmacists, this means tracking and documenting all patient medications to ensure they are working safely and effectively. The Joint Commission, an organization that evaluates and accredits health systems to improve healthcare in the U.S.3, recommends a multi-step process to ensure patient safety, consisting of developing a list of current patient medications and a list to be prescribed, comparing the lists for clinical decision-making on a new list, and communicating that list to the rest of the providers on the patient’s interdisciplinary team. This documentation is key for pharmacists to help patients manage their health.
The ongoing decentralization of healthcare offers many patients increased access to preventive care via an interdisciplinary team of professionals. By expanding their scope of practice and partnering with primary care providers, community pharmacists have stepped up to deliver POCT, vaccinations, and fulfill other primary care responsibilities. For example, patients with diabetes may require education on their medication regimen and therapies between visits to their primary care provider. Community pharmacists can offer these services, improving adherence and patient outcomes.
Atop the list of pharmacy priorities are the concepts of community and connection. As pharmacists step into a broader role as clinical providers, they should use every resource at their disposal to foster patient relationships and growth opportunities. Digital solutions like PrescribeWellness from MedWise HealthCareTM offer community pharmacies a range of services, including templates to manage workflows and ensure regulatory compliance in documentation and billing, while MedWise Safety Reviews offer decision support in medication management and reconciliation for more engaged patients and an increased competitive edge.
Brave New World
The rise and prevalence of digital technologies has led to a new era of healthcare. Community pharmacists are poised to thrive in this brave new world, with opportunities to be on the cutting edge of patient care. As pharmacists continue to develop trusting relationships with their communities and relieve some of the burdens of preventive care from local primary care providers, PrescribeWellness offers a variety of services to help adapt safely, efficiently, and progressively.
About the Author
- 1 Community Pharmacists’ Contributions to Disease Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2020/20_0317.htm.
2 NCPA June 3. It’s not a Typo: 91,500% Increase in Fees Heaped on Pharmacies, ncpa.org/newsroom/news-releases/2021/06/03/its-not-typo-91500-increase-fees-heaped-pharmacies.
3 History of The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission, www.jointcommission.org/about-us/facts-about-the-joint-commission/history-of-the-joint-commission/.