Being a pharmacist today is about more than simply filling prescriptions. The shift from fee-for-service reimbursement to value-based care has created opportunities for today’s community pharmacists to take patient care to a new level. Or, in the case of many pharmacists, to finally get paid for services they have been volunteering for years.
In an interview with Modern Healthcare, Dr. Tina Moen of IBM Watson Health discusses the changing role of pharmacists in today’s value-based care model. Moen believes that a pharmacist’s role as a medication expert is crucial to improved patient outcomes. “It’s important to bring pharmacists into the collaborative care conversation early on,” she argues, “allowing them to take ownership of the optimization of a patient’s medication regimen.”
But value-based reimbursement has opened the doors for more than just collaborative care. In fact, for some patients, the local pharmacist is quickly becoming the first point of care.
Beyond Dispensing: How Community Pharmacists Are Becoming Trusted Health Advisors
These days, patients see their pharmacists nearly 12 times more than their primary care physician. (34 visits per year for the pharmacist versus three visits for the doctor, if you’re counting.) That’s a lot of room to build a rapport. And with the new value-based initiative, pharmacists — particularly community pharmacists — are positioned to take care of their patients in completely new ways.
Medication Safety & Education
Americans are taking more prescriptions than ever before. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 55 percent of Americans regularly take at least one prescription medication. (The average is four prescriptions per person.) Among those, 53 percent receive their meds from more than one healthcare provider, increasing the risk of adverse drug effects.
In 2014, nearly 1.3 million people ended up in emergency rooms as a result of adverse drug effects. Ten percent of them — over 120,000 people — died.
Pharmacists are the first line of defense against potentially dangerous drug combinations. With over a quarter of the population getting their medications from different healthcare providers, the risk of adverse drug effects is serious and ever-present. But the diligence of today’s pharmacists can reduce that risk for every patient they advise. Patient education and improved adherence reduce the probability of adverse drug effects.
Vanguards of Community & Population Health
Pharmacists have a unique position that enables them to safeguard population health. They have access to a wide range of data about the conditions faced by their community, as well as the medication needs of their patients. This knowledge gives them an exclusive perspective on population health. “[Pharmacists] can inform and shape health system policies in tandem with physicians and nurses throughout the care continuum,” states Moen in Modern Healthcare. “Including pharmacists in the optimization of medication therapy guidelines for a population enriches the outcome by capitalizing on training and expertise from across the care team.”
Medication Therapy Management
Physicians are increasingly integrating pharmacists and medication management into their practices to improve patient outcomes. In a recent Drug Topics article, Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy CEO Susan A. Cantrell, RPh, confirmed the trend. “In fact,” she adds, “not only are they warming to it, many physicians are carving out a pharmaceutical piece of part of their risk-sharing agreements.”
With value-based care now the norm, physicians are now relying more and more on pharmacists to provide medication therapy management, frequently referred to as MTM. Combining treatment and education, pharmacists use their pharmaceutical knowledge and patient data to advise patients on their medication plan. Recognizing their value, many hospitals are now enlisting community pharmacists to provide counseling to their patients to improve adherence and reduce readmissions.
Many pharmacists also now offer outpatient services like flu shots, vaccinations, blood pressure screenings, and even consultation on chronic diseases like diabetes.
Ambulatory Care Providers
Currently, the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) has certified over 3,800 ambulatory care pharmacists in the United States. These pharmacists can provide direct outpatient care for patients, in addition to managing complex medication regimens and care delivery systems. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has found that the inclusion of ambulatory care pharmacists on a healthcare team “improves quality of care, enhances patient outcomes, and contributes to cost avoidance.”
Sometimes, however, the ambulatory care providers ARE the healthcare team. For many patients, these ambulatory care pharmacists become the first point of care. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there is a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States; by the year 2030, the country may be short more than 104,000 doctors. Without other options, like ambulatory care pharmacists, it may be difficult for patients to get the care they need.
Today’s community pharmacists do more than just fill prescriptions; they serve as medication consultants, educators, and trusted health advisors. Advances in pharmacy technology and software have made these increased responsibilities not only possible, but manageable. Some companies, like FDS, have even engineered software designed specifically to help pharmacists devote more time to patient care. And with the current shift to value-based care, the right software solutions could mean the difference between a thriving business and a closed business.
The days of pharmacists simply dispensing medication are in the past. Today, they dispense education, advice, and much-needed patient care. And there’s no refill limit for that.