America has a health care access problem. According to the National Rural Health Association, the patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.
But lack of access is an issue in urban areas, too. Transportation issues, as well as access to care in certain neighborhoods, create barriers that often affect low-income families, as well racial and ethnic minorities, studies show.
There is a solution: retail pharmacy. Pharmacies, especially those that are located in rural and disadvantaged communities, play a huge role in solving some of these issues. And regional pharmacies are on the front lines.
Last month, Lynne Fruth, president and chairman of Fruth Pharmacy in West Virginia, wrote a column for the magazine talking about the importance of regional pharmacies and what would happen if communities don’t have access to them. “If you think healthcare is expensive now, just wait until our oldest and poorest patients no longer have access to care in their communities,” she warned.
Our cover story this month (page 24) takes a deeper dive into regional pharmacies and looks at how they are innovating and helping to address health disparities in less populated and underserved areas of the country.
“Lewis Drug has numerous locations where we are the only pharmacy in the entire county in these rural areas,” Bill Ladwig, senior vice president of professional services at Lewis Drug, told us. “These locations serve as a healthcare destination in small communities by providing immunizations, adherence packaging and counseling and medication therapy management.”
Of course, retail pharmacies regional or national—probably could be doing more if they are given the opportunity, said the Lown Institute, a nonpartisan think tank advocating for bold ideas in healthcare.
“In most states, pharmacists are not recognized as health providers and cannot be reimbursed for clinical services, only for filling prescriptions,” the organization wrote in 2020. “This limits their role to cogs in the pharmacy machine, when we could be utilizing their medication knowledge to helping conduct prescription checkups and reducing harmful overmedication. Medicare should recognize pharmacists as health providers, so that pharmacists can be integrated into clinical care teams.”