The Future of Community Pharmacy Is in Your Hands

FEBRUARY 01, 2009
Bruce T. Roberts, RPh

Mr. Roberts is NCPA executive vice president and chief executive officer.

We at the National community pharmacists Association (NCPA) are focused on an envisioned future where the pharmacy benefit is broadly recognized for the value it brings to health care. It is a future where the services of a pharmacist are central to the delivery of the benefit and where our health care system embraces the importance of the pharmacist's face-to-face relationship with patients.

NCPA Intern: Iris Kim, PharmD candidate 2009, Washington State University College of Pharmacy

For a community pharmacist, health care is not about formularies and copays—it is about the patient. Community pharmacists are the last health care professionals a patient sees before embarking on a medication journey of a week or of a lifetime. Pharmacists are on the front lines, and the last lines, of a patient's health care experience. And that opportunity—to review, instruct, and comfort—is more valuable than anything on which you can put a price tag.

I am an optimist. I readily confess that is part of my nature. Being an optimist does not mean you are na?ve to your challenges, however. Certainly, independent community pharmacy has more than its share of challenges. So, why am I so optimistic about our future?

One reason I am optimistic is because of the growing use of technology. Today, we are using technology as never before to improve the quality of care, reduce costs, and provide a more personalized health care experience. In 2006, NCPA established a separate technology entity focused on providing medication therapy management to Medicare Part D patients with chronic conditions and multiple medications. It was designed to give patients a more personalized health care experience and to reward pharmacists.

The progress made by Mirixa in 2 short years has been extraordinary. The MirixaPro is not only NCPA's technology choice, but it is also the platform of choice for all existing and future American Pharmacists Association Foundation commercial programs delivered through community pharmacy.

Seven years ago, along with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, we established SureScripts, which we envisioned as a neutral platform to facilitate electronic prescribing (e-prescribing). Beyond that, however, it was another element of our strategy to have the pharmacy benefit recognized for the value it brings to overall health—one in which the pharmacist's role is central. Now, 70% of all community pharmacies are accepting e-prescriptions, and more are connecting to the Pharmacy Health Information Exchange every day.

Last summer, SureScripts merged with a rival exchange, RxHub. The benefits of forming a single, secure, nationwide network for e-prescriptions and the exchange of health information were always obvious. An abundance of evidence exists that e-prescribing can save time, money, and lives?our time, our money, our patients. Paper prescriptions are going away sooner rather than later, and the new SureScripts-RxHub is there to help you make the transition.

Technological innovations like SureScripts-RxHub and Mirixa are critical pieces of the puzzle that are helping us make a difference for our patients and ultimately will lead us to our envisioned future. They certainly are one reason for optimism.

But the greatest reason why I am optimistic is because of students like you. At the 110th Annual Convention in Tampa last year, NCPA hosted its fifth annual Pruitt- Schutte Student Business Plan Competition, and each year the competition just gets better and better. Students from >30 schools and colleges of pharmacy participated in this one-of-a-kind competition on independent pharmacy ownership (with special congratulations to the 2008 winner, the University of Arizona). It does not just end at the convention. A survey of previous competition participants found that over one third went to work in an independent community pharmacy after graduation, and a whopping 88% plan to pursue independent community pharmacy ownership in the future.

To help you as future owners, NCPA has created the new NCPA Ownership Academy, a "go-to" resource for all phases of community ownership. This one-stop shop provides valuable information and a networking source— from tools to assist in buying a pharmacy, making your practice better and more profitable as an owner, and even selling your business and transitioning into retirement, the Ownership Academy has everything you need for a career in community pharmacy.

Although I am so optimistic about our future, I know that there are further challenges that lie ahead. In our nation's capital, we still must battle for community pharmacies' right to negotiate with pharmacy benefit managers and a fix to a Medicaid reimbursement system that proposes to pay us less than the acquisition cost for many generic drugs. We also anxiously await the beginning of legislative efforts to overhaul our health care system and provide universal coverage.

So, how can you help? Become an NCPA member now. Get involved in the NCPA chapter at your school, or if one does not exist start one with the help of NCPA's Student Affairs Outreach Program, which is now working through 80 pharmacy school chapters to incorporate entrepreneurship into the educational experience.

Furthermore, help us rally the troops in the weeks and months to come as we march toward our envisioned future—a future of having community pharmacists front and center in the health care system and our industry recognized as a political powerhouse second to none. Let us build on our past successes, go forward, and make sure that community pharmacists are treated like the cornerstone of our health care system that we truly are. The future of independent pharmacy is in your hands.

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