Pharmacists deemed underutilized

April 1, 2005

Patients who receive these added pharmacist services place a very high value on them.

NATIONAL REPORTS-Over the last several decades, the role of the pharmacist has evolved from a dispensing function, to a combination of dispensing and patient-focused services.

To that end, some pharmacies, such as Kerr Drug and Happy Harry's, have begun offering pharmacy or patient care centers that enable patients to meet with their pharmacist for health screenings, disease-state specific education or general medication-therapy management services.

"Pharmacists traditionally have been underutilized members of the healthcare team. This is in part due to the failure of some healthcare professionals, as well as insurers to recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers," says James A. Owen, RPh, director, clinical services and professional development at Happy Harry's Inc.

Based on the belief that solutions to the major problems of healthcare-cost, quality and access-lie in the evolution of community pharmacy practice as a home for the delivery of clinical patient care services, Kerr Drug began in 1998 to develop sustainable practice models to enable its pharmacists to impact communities as healthcare providers.

The result was Kerr Health Care Centers, staffed with clinical pharmacists and community pharmacy residents, whose role is to deliver medication-therapy management and other screening and monitoring services.

"With the total cost of drug-related morbidity and mortality significantly outpacing the total cost of prescription drugs in the United States, Kerr Drug sought to bring the pharmacist closer to the patient, thereby enabling the pharmacist's expertise in medication-therapy management to directly impact the patient's quality of life in a meaningful, lasting way," Chater says. "With medication-therapy management included as part of the new Medicare language, this positioning was fortuitous.

"We have demonstrated our ability to improve clinical outcomes while decreasing total healthcare costs," Chater adds. "Capitalizing on the community pharmacy as an access point for care is vital, as patients see their pharmacist on average five times more than any other healthcare provider."

Happy Harry's also maintains that community pharmacists are the best-qualified to provide medication-therapy management services. "The ability of our pharmacists to provide continual care to our patients in between the patient's visits with their physician, the access provided in neighborhood community pharmacies, and the ability for our pharmacists to identify and resolve drug-related problems establishes our pharmacists as key members of the healthcare team," Owen says.

The possibility of this nationwide recognition of pharmacists as providers and potential payment for pharmacist-provided services has encouraged many pharmacists to develop mechanisms for incorporating medication-therapy management services into their practice settings, Owen adds.

Happy Harry's formally entered into providing patient care services with the opening of its first Pharmacy Care Center location in July 2002.

Happy Harry's Pharmacy Care Center's screening services include blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1C, lung function, and bone density. Its disease-state education programs include asthma, diabetes, dyslipidemia and hypertension-all of which can range in complexity-depending upon individual patient needs.

"Health screenings provided by our Pharmacy Care Center help to identify patients who may be currently undiagnosed with certain health conditions and provide referrals to physicians prior to the development of advanced stages of diseases or complications resulting from non-treatment," Owen says. "In regard to disease-state specific education and management, our services provide reinforcement and in some cases clarification of concepts which will assist the patient in attaining a better understanding of their role in managing and monitoring their health condition."

In addition, Happy Harry's Pharmacy Care Center has initiated a medication-therapy management service designed to empower patients to participate in managing their medications, according to Owen.