If You Want to Know Where Pharmacists' Roles Are Heading, Follow Patients

Last year in particular, pharmacists played a greater role in patient care with an increased workload as they connected patients, providers, and payers.

As the most accessible health care professionals, pharmacists have stepped out from behind the counter to provide patients essential clinical care in a variety of settings. In addition to dispensing medications, they now administer and even, in some states, prescribe them.1

These changes, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are part of an emerging hybrid pharmacy model.2 Across a variety of settings, pharmacists continue to fill gaps in primary care, administer lifesaving vaccines and provide complex medication education for retail and specialty drugs. Last year in particular, pharmacists played a greater role in patient care with an increased workload as they connected patients, providers, and payers.3

In other words, pharmacists are establishing themselves as central members of patients’ care teams, even where they’ve previously been overlooked.4 They’ve done so, in part, by following the lead of patients, who today are more engaged in their own health than they’ve ever been before.5 Consumerism has been trending in health care, but signs suggest a turning point is near as patients demand choice in what medication is being prescribed and where it’s being filled.6

A roadmap for the future of pharmacy evolution

The empowered role of the pharmacist has completely reshuffled the patient care team. As a result, the lines delineating whose “job” it is to help a patient—particularly around medication access barriers but also including affordability challenges and prior authorization requests—are blurred.

In the years ahead, expect pharmacists to be even more closely aligned with patients, going beyond their traditional roles of dispensing medications and providing education, to managing disease states, conducting preventative screenings, and coordinating care across the health care continuum.

Patient demands for transparency, speed, and convenience will likely require back-end changes to free pharmacists’ time for these emerging responsibilities. Using automation tools, such as prescription filling, to help manage inventory more efficiently and cost-effectively could allow more time for direct-to-patient delivery or patient counseling.

With more than half of the pharmacists surveyed for the 2022 Medication Access Report saying they don’t have time to complete their job effectively most days, any time and resource savings is crucial.

But perhaps most importantly, technology can help pharmacists better serve their patients. The 2022 Medication Access Report also found that 79% of patients found the price of their prescription more expensive than expected at the pharmacy counter.

But pharmacists were usually able to help by providing a cash price or cheaper alternative. When technology-enabled solutions are used to help find the best path to overcome a medication access barrier, pharmacists can focus less on manual tasks and more on patient care.

In fact, more than half of pharmacists said it's fulfilling or very fulfilling to help patients better afford their medications. Similarly, pharmacy staff said that helping patients understand their medications, benefits, and payment options is the most fulfilling part of their job.


What could stand in the way?

Technology isn’t a silver bullet, especially if the tools available to care teams don’t enable effective collaboration between pharmacies, providers, and payers. For pharmacists and their patients, real-time data on patient-specific prescription benefit information continues to be paramount.

During a normal week, the 2022 Medication Access Report found that 84% of pharmacists are helping patients with benefit questions, but most are searching multiple places to find this information. Only 36% of pharmacists said they can surface patient-specific benefit information in their system, and just 41% can surface pharma-sponsored discount card options.

This lack of easy visibility highlights the need for technology solutions that provide these options in a way that saves the pharmacist time. Integrated technology can help facilitate productive conversations in all areas of the pharmacy workflow, from prescription intake to pick up. That’s because solutions built with a patient-centric focus keep lines of communication open among patients, providers, pharmacists, and payers.

Inefficient workflows impact more than just pharmacists, too. Enabling patient choice in price, method of treatment and mode of provider interaction can help improve feelings of control and trust, potentially leading to improved therapy adherence.

In one study, patients whose care teams used prescription decision support technology inclusive of real-time benefit information at the point of prescribing were 19% more likely to pick up their medication from the pharmacy. This proves the value of technology in reducing administrative burden and improving patient outcomes.7

What can be done now?

The good news? Trendlines are pointing in the right direction.

In the past 12 months, the 2022 Medication Access Report found that patients have relied more on their pharmacists than before.8 More than half of patients said their relationship with their pharmacist had changed for the better and more than one-third said they relied on their pharmacist for information related to their condition, medication, and payment options.

With the patient at the center of every health care decision and 90% of patients having electronic access to labs, diagnostic test results, and other critical information,9 the future care team is more inclusive and requires collaboration. The ideal environment is one in which the patient, pharmacist, and provider act as a 3-legged stool—all collaborating to keep the patient’s health on steady footing.

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to aid in the development of this environment. As medication managers for patients, the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy notes that pharmacists often lead collaborative efforts to develop and implement medication-based care plans.10

This role can help pharmacists truly step into the spotlight and out from behind pharmacy counters to “improve patient care, achieve clinical outcomes and reduce overall costs of care.”

About the Author

Miranda Delatore, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is VP of Network Operations, CoverMyMeds.

References

1. Ryan, L. "Ohio pharmacists can now prescribe COVID-19 medication Paxlovid," WKSU, July 7, 2022. WKSU. Published July 7, 2022. https://www.wksu.org/2022-07-07/ohio-pharmacists-can-now-prescribe-covid-19-medication-paxlovid

2. Mollison, C. "Clinical Results Support Greater Use of Oncology Biosimilars," Pharmacy Times, Oct. 14, 2022. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/clinical-results-support-greater-use-of-oncology-biosimilars

3. CoverMyMeds Pharmacist Survey, 2021

4. Marchal, M. "Pharmacists: The Often-Overlooked Providers," CoverMyMeds, Dec. 9, 2020. https://insights.covermymeds.com/healthcare-industry/pharmacy/pharmacists-the-often-overlooked-providers

5. Leventhal, R. "Survey: Patients Becoming More Engaged with their Healthcare," Healthcare Innovation, Feb. 28, 2017. https://www.hcinnovationgroup.com/population-health-management/news/13028189/survey-patients-becoming-more-engaged-with-their-healthcare

6. Gordon, D. "Is The Era Of Healthcare Consumerism Finally Here? New Survey Says Yes," Forbes, Dec. 2, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/debgordon/2021/12/02/is-the-era-of-healthcare-consumerism-finally-here-new-survey-says-yes/?sh=56d6d9ec3840

7. CoverMyMeds data on file, 2019

8. CoverMyMeds Pharmacist Survey, 2021

9. 2022 CoverMyMeds Medication Access Report

10. “Patient Care Services Provided by a Pharmacist,” Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, May 20, 2019. https://www.amcp.org/policy-advocacy/policy-advocacy-focus-areas/where-we-stand-position-statements/patient-care-services-provided-pharmacist#:~:text=Pharmacists%20are%20equipped%20to%20provide,other%20direct%20patient%20care%20services