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Here’s to our local heroes: America’s pharmacists

Filling healthcare gaps with pharmacists is both necessary and urgent to ensure people have access to the services they need.
david pope
David Pope, Pharm.D., CDE
david pope
David Pope, Pharm.D., CDE

National Pharmacist Day is Jan. 12. A great way to start the New Year is to recognize America’s pharmacists for their many contributions. These unsung heroes work hard every day in thousands of pharmacies across the country, providing convenient quality care to millions of people, especially seniors.

Thanks to our neighborhood pharmacists, lives have been saved and public health goals have been achieved. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 305 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered by retail pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. This is nearly half of all COVID-19 vaccinations in the country. Many of these vaccines were given to the most vulnerable through the Program, including America’s seniors living in long-term care facilities. 

In fact, more than 95% of those 65 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Without interventions by pharmacists, the number of seniors vaccinated would have been much lower and many more lives would have been tragically lost.   

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Filling healthcare gaps

Today, 90% of Americans live within five miles of at least one pharmacy. Patients visit their community pharmacist roughly twice as frequently as they visit primary care physicians, with those in rural areas visiting their pharmacist even more often. This convenient access to pharmacies is particularly important because nearly half of U.S. counties already face shortages of primary care providers with just one doctor for every 1,500 people.   

dr kyu rhee
Kyu Rhee, M.D., M.P.P.
dr kyu rhee
Kyu Rhee, M.D., M.P.P.

The United States is facing—and will continue to face—a shortage of primary care physicians that is projected to only get worse. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) expects that by 2032 there will be a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians, including up to 55,000 in primary care and 66,000 in other specialties. Filling these healthcare gaps with pharmacists, who are already embedded in the community as trusted sources of reliable quality care, is both necessary and urgent to ensure people have access to the services they need. 

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The most recent J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Pharmacy Study noted that pharmacists have become a critical link in the healthcare continuum, and pharmacies are taking on a more significant role as they continue to transform from the corner drug store to a multi-channel hub of healthcare services and digital tools. The study found that 83% of brick-and-mortar pharmacy customers indicated an interest in receiving health and wellness services at their pharmacy, up three percentage points from 2022. In 2021, J.D. Power reported 51% of Americans visited the pharmacy to get a health and wellness service, such as vaccines or routine screening. 

Other services, including smoking cessation, medication therapy management, and chronic care management for diseases such as diabetes, have also been successfully provided by pharmacists.

And in summer of 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognized the important role pharmacists have played and continue to play in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic by authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid to treat eligible patients. The FDA noted that since Paxlovid must be taken within five days after symptoms begin, authorizing pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid could expand access to this timely treatment. This decision may have saved countless lives, especially among seniors: a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people 65 or older had a 73% lower chance of being hospitalized for COVID-19 and about a 79% lower chance of dying of the disease, compared to people in the same age group who did not take Paxlovid.

Improving the health of seniors by supporting our local heroes

An opinion poll of seniors conducted in 2022 found that 80% wanted local pharmacies to provide access to vaccines, testing, and treatments for flu, strep or future pandemic infections.  And a more recent survey commissioned by Wolters Kluwer found that “58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step when faced with a non-emergency medical issue. 81% say they trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.”

We owe it to our seniors to listen to their needs and ensure pharmacists have the support they need to continue to play a vital role in our communities as frontline providers of essential healthcare. They are true heroes, and we are very lucky to have them down the block and around the corner.

David Pope, Pharm.D., CDE, is the chief pharmacy officer at XiFin, Inc.

Kyu Rhee, M.D., M.P.P., is C.E.O. of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC); former chief medical officer, CVS Health, I.B.M.; and human resources and services administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.).

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