Pharmacists can provide preconception care within their scope of practice as part of routine health care to women and men of reproductive potential, regardless of pregnancy intention
Pharmacists have great potential to improve preconception health. As they become increasingly aware and involved in providing preconception care, pharmacists can help close the gaps in such care by being advocates for the expansion of their role in preconception health.
Here are 5 things pharmacists should know about preconception health:
1. We have a big problem with adverse pregnancy outcomes in the United States
The United States has high rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality, and other adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to other developed countries.1 Almost half of all pregnancies (45%) in the United States are unintended.2 In a society with such poor outcomes, health care professionals should provide preconception care within their scope of practice as part of routine health care to women and men of reproductive potential, regardless of pregnancy intention.2,3,4
2. Preconception health is all about optimizing the health of people with reproductive potential to ensure any pregnancies are healthy ones.
What is preconception care? Preconception care is the recognition and management of biomedical or behavioral issues that should be addressed before pregnancy to optimize health.3,4 For women of reproductive potential, recommended preconception care interventions can be broadly organized into four categories: counseling, maternal assessment, screening, and vaccinations.5 While preconception health may be more readily associated with women’s health, preconception health in men of reproductive potential is also important. Preconception care for men can help ensure pregnancies are intended, improve pregnancy outcomes, reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and improve men’s health.6
3. Pharmacists have the potential to deliver preconception care services.
Pharmacists are one of the most accessible health care providers and are well positioned to meet patients’ needs in preconception care, and improve health outcomes in the United States.5,7 Pharmacists can provide preconception care in areas such as disease state, and medication management; immunizations, folic acid supplementation, substance use counseling, smoking cessation, and contraceptive counseling.
4. Pharmacists want to provide some preconception services more than others.
So what do pharmacists think about providing preconception care to patients? We recently conducted a cross-sectional study of 332 pharmacists, and student pharmacists across the United States and its territories to assess pharmacist experiences, interest, and comfort with preconception care comprehensively.8 Pharmacists, and student pharmacists were already most involved with routine immunizations (54%), diabetes management (53%), and smoking cessation (52%), showing the consistent role pharmacists play in providing these preconception care services.
Pharmacists, and student pharmacists also expressed strong interest in providing STD/HIV screening and management (68%), and medication management services (62%). Examples of STD/HIV screening and management services that could be developed include community pharmacy clinics that provide screening and/or treatment, as well as patient counseling when over-the-counter screening tests are bought.9 In addition, because more than 80% of pregnant women take over-the-counter or prescription medications, pharmacists are well positioned to provide counseling to reduce risk of medication teratogenicity prior to pregnancy.10 These services may be considered initially for implementation to advance the role of pharmacists in providing preconception care.
Pharmacists, and student pharmacists were most comfortable providing services to female adults (88%), and female adolescents (65%) compared to male adults (61%) or male adolescents (32%). Implementing training sessions, and workshops may be beneficial to encourage the provision of preconception care services to male patients, especially male adolescents.
#5 — We need more work to prepare our pharmacists to provide these services.
Pharmacists and student pharmacists alike were interested in receiving more training about preconception care topics, particularly STD/HIV screening and management, minimizing risk of medication teratogenicity, and phenylketonuria management. Developing new and improved education and training programs could expand pharmacists’ knowledge on these preconception care services. In addition to education and training programs, access to patient medical records, patient education materials, and clinical guidelines would be useful resources to facilitate the provision of preconception care.
This article was co-written by Cydnee Ng, a student pharmacist at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.