The World Speaks: Educating patients, payers on value of pharmacy

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The World Speaks: Educating patients, payers on value of pharmacy

It is an exciting time to be a pharmacist. We are educating our student pharmacists at a higher level than ever before to provide direct patient care. All students now obtain a minimum of 300 hours of early experiential education in addition to the last year of full time advanced experiential patient care experiences. The importance of residency training has continued to gain traction in the profession and the number of community pharmacy residencies is growing along with hospital and ambulatory care-based residencies. More and more pharmacists are becoming board certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in their specialty area. Along with our medical counterparts, pharmacists are becoming credentialed and privileged in various healthcare settings. Interprofessional team care, including the pharmacist, is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

However, even with all of these strides, we still have one major roadblock — the need to tackle the issue of payment for pharmacist services. This continues to be a barrier to full integration into the healthcare team. For example, how many times have we helped our patients navigate the nonprescription drug aisle? Managed care and other payers must view pharmacists’ evaluation of specific medical conditions and the initiation of treatment with appropriate OTC medicines as being in the patients’ and payers’ best interest, and they must compensate for it. We need patients to truly appreciate that OTC medicines are important, and that they must be taken seriously and treated with the same respect that they give prescription medicines.

In order to provide the best care for our patients, we need to address real impediments to delivering patient care in all pharmacy practice settings so that today’s pharmacists can take advantage of new patient care opportunities. No matter how highly educated or motivated a pharmacist is, care cannot be provided to his or her patients if the workplace environment provides barriers to providing this care. We can and must do more to educate patients — and payers — about the value of pharmacy services. Equally important, we must insure that the profession has the capacity to provide these services as demand increases.

Janet Engle professor, senior associate dean for professional and international affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, and past president of the American Pharmacists Association.