Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do You Know Your Community Pharmacist?

Who is your community pharmacist? Trusted adviser? Sought after resource? Part of our care network? Friend?

Some of us may not know our community pharmacist. In the advent of central-fill, home delivery prescriptions and access to information at any hour, our trusted community pharmacist may be turning into an obsolete intermediary. As a result, are we missing an opportunity for better care?


Like this unsuspecting patron, many patients look to their community pharmacists for expert advice. Triggered by the ever erratic and clumsy Kramer, Jerry Seinfeld is thrust into the role of pharmacist and provides some....not so good advice.

Even though we may have chuckled at this comic relief, it brings to the fore an important notion to consider: what role does a community pharmacist play in our health.

In a New York Times article by Reed Abelson and Natasha Singer titled Pharmacists Take Larger Role on Health Team their research found:
"Like other health plans, Blue Shield views pharmacists as having the education, expertise, free time and plain-spoken approach to talk to patients at length about what medicines they are taking and to keep close tabs on their well-being."
A community pharmacist has the potential to add unique value to the care received from providers. They are on the ground, within the community and easily accessible. Just walk through the pharmacy door. 

They see all the medications an individual is prescribed and know what conditions are being treated. As we no longer see one doctor to treat all ailments, we often receive multiple prescriptions from various sources. Who’s the glue the holds it all together, the single medical professional that oversees the complete medication regimen - our pharmacist.

The value of a pharmacist goes well beyond filling prescriptions. As referenced in an article in Drug Topics written by Abigail Johnson titled CMR: Beyond the brown-bag review pharmacists are now:
  • Performing comprehensive medication review (CMR) including the review of medication purposes and side effects
  • Creating personal medication list (PML) for each patient
  • Assessing issues such as adherence, appropriateness of therapy, and opportunities for cost savings
  • In addition, they are providing medication action plans (MAP), detailing the steps to optimized medication therapy
These highly trained and well-equipped individuals are available to contribute to our health. Have we been overlooking their value to our own detriment? Are we missing a real opportunity for valuable health guidance and instruction? With their expertise, can our community pharmacists play a more pivotal role in treating chronic illness?

As alluded to before, there are opposing trends at work that are challenging a pharmacist’s role in individual health. With central-fill and home delivery prescription services (e.g. Express Scripts, Medco) that save customers money in the near term, we may be creating a disconnect from the dialogue and personalized advice of a pharmacist that can yield long term benefit.

A pharmacist is more than an individual who fills a script. Yet in the advent of mail order delivery, we may have inadvertently simplified their role to one that is easily dismissible.  In response, as noted, pharmacists are taking on a broader role in patient health.  Are these isolated reactions, or indication of a new way in which pharmacists become more engaged and fully integrated within our care network?

As local experts, available to share knowledge and offer guidance, it seems our pharmacists are ripe for fuller integration - ready for a larger role in our health.

Local. Knowledgeable. Accessible. Our community pharmacists - a valuable resource - should not lay waste. We can watch, as the work begins - top down - to provide programs and services that more fully integrate pharmacists within our care network. Until then, let's not wait. We can restore, on the individual level, our pharmacist's role in our health. We can, as individuals, reinforce their value and revive the need and demand for their participation in our well-being.

Next time your are at the pharmacy...introduce yourself to your pharmacist. Welcome them as a new member of your personal health management team.

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