Collaborative models for patient care in which pharmacists and physicians work closely together
in the best interest of patients have proven effective but are often elusive.
The accessibility of community pharmacies, pharmacists’ expertise around medications and the conditions they treat make them ideal venues for monitoring patient health in coordination with physicians.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the potential for deeper pharmacist-physician collaboration noted that community pharmacists are often much more accessible to patients than doctors, mainly because 86% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy. By providing medication assessment and counseling and lifestyle management recommendations, pharmacists can improve patient outcomes, especially when it comes to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, the CDC reported.
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Keys to Collaborative Success
Creating better avenues for two-way communication and information sharing are among the keys to the success of pharmacist-physician partnerships, according to retail pharmacy leaders.
“Communication can sometimes be a challenge, especially when we are limited to phone calls or faxes with a provider’s office,” said Sara Couture, manager of pharmacy clinical programs, Hannaford Supermarkets. “It takes time and resources to make the outreach and keep each other informed. However, we know it’s a worthwhile investment.”
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Access to patient records is another challenge that retail pharmacists face when collaborating with physicians. “In general, pharmacies and pharmacists have the least amount of information from the electronic health record of their customers available to them,” said Karen Staniforth, senior vice president and chief pharmacy officer, Rite Aid. “Most pharmacies do not have access to electronic health records, and this lack of information can make it difficult to engage with prescribers as fellow clinical experts.” Advancements in technology are helping to solve these communication- and information-sharing shortfalls, she said.
“Communicating between pharmacies and physicians’ practices continues to be an area of opportunity,” said Staniforth, noting that Rite Aid has implemented technology to help close this gap through secure electronic messaging between Rite Aid and physicians’ practices. “This helps the pharmacy team communicate issues with prescriptions directly to providers for clarification or required changes.”
Another key challenge to more coordinated care among pharmacists and physicians is that both doctors and their patients may not fully understand the role that pharmacists can play in patient care, according to the CDC report. “Pharmacists’ education and training fully prepares them for participation in and contribution to team-based care, disease management and the provision of wellness services,” the report concluded. “However, pharmacists’ skills may be underused, as patients and physicians are not always aware of the extent of pharmacists’ training and qualifications.”
Payment silos inherent in the system—the distinction between medical insurance coverage and pharmacy insurance coverage—are another key barrier to collaboration, according to Deloitte.
Staniforth noted that pharmacists could also flag concerns around a patient’s prescriptions to physicians, such as potential drug interactions or how a different dosage might have a different outcome on a patient.
“These pharmacy-provided services help physicians focus on more chronic, complex care, especially in areas or practices that may have physician staffing shortages,” said Staniforth. “By collaborating, Rite Aid pharmacists ensure customers have access to their medications and get the most out of their treatments. Rite Aid pharmacists are embedded in the communities we serve and are a valuable part of the health care delivery team.”
Staniforth said Rite Aid will continue to seek out opportunities to strengthen relationships with
other healthcare providers. “This may include further integration into the medical records with providers or direct partnerships—collaborative practice agreements—with Rite Aid pharmacists managing customer’s medications,” she said.
Likewise, Couture of Hannaford Supermarkets said the chain’s pharmacies collaborate with
physicians to assess patient adherence and understanding of their medications. “Pharmacists sometimes have data that is not available at a physician’s office, such as how often a patient is taking their medication or requesting refills,” Couture said. “We are also well positioned to identify and help close gaps in areas like vaccinations. This is especially important since we saw a decrease in vaccination rates during the pandemic.”
The most important benefit derived from pharmacist-physician collaboration is improved
patient care, said Couture. “It benefits a patient to have conversations with their pharmacist and become more knowledgeable about their health conditions and medications,” she said. Meanwhile, physicians can see benefits from collaboration by gaining more understanding about their patients’ adherence to prescriptions and how it impacts their condition. This ultimately provides information that enables physicians to determine whether or not to make changes to the patient’s treatment.
“The biggest opportunity is for a better understanding of the impact that a pharmacist has on patient care,” said Couture. “Pharmacists are well equipped to counsel and complete check-ins for patients to ensure they are getting the care they need.”