When a group of North Carolina pharmacy leaders met in 1994 to advance the role of the pharmacist, few would have dared to dream that the Asheville Project would be the result. Even fewer would have been willing to suggest the impact it would have on the profession. Today, 10 years after the project was launched, almost everyone mentions Asheville when speaking about the pharmacist?s contribution to patient care. Many states can identify examples of the Asheville Project being conducted within their borders, and increasingly, self-insured employers are showing interest in applying the model to programs of their own.
Now, with 10 years of experience collaboratively managing chronic disease, what can we learn from this effort?
Change is difficult, and changing a profession can sometimes seem a daunting task. The Asheville Project and its many follow-up programs show that change is possible and highlight the critical role pharmacists can play in the management of chronic disease. In Asheville, a change in mindset was achieved when those original pharmacist pioneers put the needs of others?especially patients?first. Rather than focusing on ?what?s in it for me,? they asked ?how can I make a difference,? and they did.
We learned that motivated pharmacists?with encouragement, resources, and the right structures?are capable of collaboratively coaching patients to manage their own chronic disease. Pharmacists who want to do it can be prepared to do it. They may need a little training. They need a structure to work within so that referrals are possible and patient information can be shared. The pharmacist serves more like a personal trainer for the patients, so that over time, patients begin to take the responsibility to manage their own disease.
Rather than encountering turf battles between professionals, we learned from the Asheville Project that when pharmacists assume a collaborative role in chronic disease management, the role of other professionals is enhanced. The results are better disease management than what any one professional could do alone.
We hear each year how much pharmacists are trusted by the public. The Asheville Project demonstrates that patients do trust their pharmacist and are very satisfied with the care they receive.
The Asheville Project is based on face-to-face interaction between the pharmacist and the patient. The long-term success of this project suggests that this personal interaction is important in developing trust, holding people accountable for agreed goals, and monitoring that outcomes are achieved.
Why has the Asheville Project had such staying power? A program started locally, involving local providers with support from community leaders, may well be the key.
We hope this special issue highlighting yet more examples of effective disease management efforts will help you get started offering your own program. Remember: change comes when a few individuals feel like they can make a difference. Will you be one of those few?