Pharmacist-administered immunization opportunities are expanding

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Pharmacist-administered immunization opportunities are expanding

By John Beckner, NCPA - 11/16/2018
As the National Community Pharmacists Association Annual Convention concluded recently, I headed home to Richmond for a few days of R&R, Hurricane Michael cleanup and, yes, a couple of scheduled physician appointments. Each visit required the requisite paperwork to ensure that the information in my patient record was complete and current. One of the questions — “Have you received your flu shot this year?” — caused me to reflect on my days as an immunizing pharmacist and the impact pharmacists have had on immunization rates.

Pharmacists have been involved with vaccines since the 1800s, but only for the past 20 years have they been actively involved in the routine immunization of patients. As the emphasis on preventive care continues to grow, many states are expanding the role of pharmacists as experts in immunizations. Currently, immunization is the No. 1 patient care service offered by community pharmacy, highlighting the important role pharmacists play in public health. According to the 2018 NCPA Digest, 73% of community pharmacies offer immunization services. If you subscribe to the glass-half-empty mentality, only 73% of independent community pharmacies offer immunizations.

Life-saving vaccines have a profound impact on the entire nation. Today, almost everyone can receive immunizations against 17 once-common and potentially deadly infectious diseases in the United States. However, many patients still fall through the cracks because providers fail to ask about such things as travel plans, school health needs or if they have received immunizations for high-risk environments. Although we have come a long way, nearly eradicating so many vaccine- preventable illnesses, we still have some work to do on getting our current immunization trends and populations up to date. For example, on one end of the spectrum, the percentage of patients across every age group has improved for influenza coverage. Conversely, the need for immunization improvement remains in the area of pneumococcal disease, which is lingering below Healthy People 2020 targets.

Offering immunizations provides opportunities for pharmacies far beyond the revenue that is generated from this service. Pharmacy-based immunization services help build a relationship based on trust between the patient and the pharmacist, leading the patient to rely more and more on the pharmacist for a wide array of such services as counseling, OTC recommendations, prescription delivery, health screenings, medication therapy management services and traditional prescription dispensing. Immunizations go a long way toward branding the pharmacy as a destination for health and wellness, an important differentiator in today’s competitive marketplace.

Finally, immunizations are a core service set for pharmacies participating in such enhanced services networks as CPESN. These pharmacies are required to screen patients for ACIP-recommended immunizations, educate patients about needed immunizations, or refer to other healthcare providers. In today’s healthcare environment, with the focus on collaborative, team-based care, it is critical that we try to eliminate any remaining and, in some cases, perceived barriers — i.e., physician opposition — to providing this important public health service.

As America’s most accessible healthcare providers, pharmacists are up to the challenge. Let’s get to work.

John Beckner is senior director of strategic initiatives for the National Community Pharmacists Association.