Could Pharmacists Fill the Primary Care Provider Gap?

It doesn't take a statistician to realize that there is a gap in the amount of primary care providers required to efficiently run our held-together-by-bubble-gum-and-paper-clips health care system.

It doesn’t take a statistician to realize that there is a gap in the amount of primary care providers required to efficiently run our held-together-by-bubble-gum-and-paper-clips health care system.

All you have to do is visit a physician’s office and watch a patient wait 2 hours to get his or her sniffles addressed with antibiotics and steroids.

This problem is forecasted to only get worse, and those who care about such things are looking for a solution. They needn’t look any further than a pharmacy counter.

For as long as I have been practicing, the pharmacist has been the go-to professional for determining whether a patient needs a higher level of health care or, to put it simply, pay for a doctor’s visit.

More often than not, a pharmacist’s opinion is the reason why a patient winds up in a physician’s office. I should be on retainer from the medical practices I have recommended over the years.

But what if pharmacists could save a step in the health care system and take care of routine medical patients?

The idea of pharmacist provider status has been kicked around since I graduated in the Golden Age of theophylline. I think now is the time to give it serious thought.

Don’t underestimate a pharmacist’s capabilities. Intelligence runs deep in the profession.

Most of us are medical doctors who didn’t want to have to wait until the ripe old age of 30-something to operate free and clear. Pharmacists are trained far beyond the most visible faction of the profession.

One thing that George Downes, PharmD, taught me at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy was that life experiences add up to specialization in a profession.

I have been battling my weight for about 35 years of my life. If you reimbursed me as a provider for preventive medicine, I would do amazing things in health care.

Between medication therapy management and immunizations, I am amazed at how much my job scope has broadened. Too much, perhaps.

I believe that a pharmacist provider would be a full-time job with no time for traditional dispensing. Adding all of this to a dispensing pharmacist’s already pressed schedule would be asking for trouble.

Even pharmacy technicians’ responsibilities have grown exponentially over the years. Data entry was once a bonus task for a pharmacy technician, but it is now a requirement. Meanwhile, pharmacists today are paid for their professional judgment, rather than their labor.

The practice of medicine is going to change over the years. Primary care providers will only grow shorter in supply, and the gap will need to be filled. A pharmacist is in the perfect candidate to provide such a service.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, could help fill the gap.