Calling All Pharmacy Leaders

Strong pharmacy leaders are needed in the era of health care reform.

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the aging population are projected to become significant health care costs in the near future, with prescription drugs cited as one of the fastest-growing costs in the United States.

The US Census Bureau estimates there are roughly 76 million Americans who comprise the baby boom generation, which is about 26.1% of the US population.1 It’s also estimated that 3 million baby boomers will hit retirement age every year for approximately the next 20 years.

Although today’s baby boomers have a longer life expectancy, they also have higher rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.2 These findings support the notion that there’s an increased likelihood for continued health care costs and a need for more health care professionals as baby boomers age. Hence, our aging population will affect how caregivers and policymakers shape the health care system for decades to come.

To meet the needs of millions of new patients who are receiving health insurance while outnumbering primary care physicians, social and public policy changes must start now. States like Oregon and Washington have already implemented legislation granting pharmacists the ability to collaborate with other members of the health care team and bill for services like medication therapy management (MTM).

These expanded pharmacist roles improve the quality and efficiency of health care delivery by ensuring that patients have access to quality services through their local pharmacist. In the coming months and years, provider status legislation at the state and federal levels will take priority, but not without strong pharmacy leadership, representation, and advocacy for the profession.

With their unique education and training, pharmacists are the drug experts in the treatment, management, and prevention of diseases. With provider status, pharmacists could optimally use their knowledge and expertise in preparing, dispensing, and using medications to help make significant contributions to improving patient outcomes. These services will give patients improved access to pharmacist-provided patient care like MTM, educational resources, counseling services, and increased access to immunizations.

As part of these services, pharmacists will also have the chance to make changes to patient medication regimens that could lower overall health care costs, thereby adding value to the health care team at large. Although these benefits are very attractive, attaining pharmacist provider status is no easy feat and won’t happen overnight.

It took states like California years for pharmacists to be recognized as providers. The process required pharmacy leaders from across all different disciplines to lobby, gather legislature support, and campaign successfully.

Strong pharmacy leaders from different sites like hospital pharmacies, community pharmacies, and even the pharmaceutical industry are needed to inspire momentum to advocate for expanding the scope and breadth of the profession. Even after pharmacists nationwide are granted the opportunity to operate under provider status, more pharmacy leaders will be needed to help establish the infrastructures for clinical and administrative processes.

Pharmacists have the capacity to serve as leaders and influencers in health care, as seen by their contributions to promoting cost-effective care, medication stewardship initiatives, and patient advocacy. The rapidly changing and increasingly complex health care field presents a perfect opportunity for pharmacy leaders to assume greater roles on the health care team and have a positive impact on patient health outcomes.

References

1. Colby SL, Ortman JM. The baby boom cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. US Census Bureau. census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf. Published May 2014. Accessed June 6, 2016.

2. King DE, Matheson E, Chirina S, Shankar A, Broman-Fulks J. The status of baby boomers’ health in the United States. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(5):385.