The Next-Generation Pharmacist Profile: Vision for the Future

Pharmacy TimesOctober 2010 Diabetes
Volume 76
Issue 10

This research project provides insight into the future trends and goals of pharmacists as their role continues to evolve.

This research project provides insight into the future trends and goals of pharmacists as their role continues to evolve.

Delving into the thought processes of members of a select profession, especially in the health care arena, is a tough proposition. The values and goals of any one group are not so easily defined. There is historical data, to be sure, as well as a wealth of anecdotal information and observations. But nothing quite takes you to the heart of a matter like a personal one-on-one conversation. Capturing feelings and thoughts “in their own words” and then quantifying them into statistically significant analyses provides valuable insight into a profession—and the vision individuals express about the future.

The goal of the Next-Generation Pharmacist Profile project, conducted this spring through a partnership between Pharmacy Times and Parata, was to fill a current gap in the industry. The study was fielded to profile the pharmacist in the United States and to better understand the motivations and goals of pharmacists today. Another goal was to gather information about the future visions of the industry as seen through the eyes of those who practice bench pharmacy in the community, chain, and institutional settings. What are the differences, if any, across these sectors of pharmacy practice? What are the career motivations of pharmacists? What is the legacy connection?

Previously, we commented on the scope of the research project, the associated awards program (please see “Announcing the Winners” ) in Part 1 of this research summary (please see “The Next-Generation Pharmacist: What Will the Future Look Like for Pharmacy?” September 2010, Pharmacy Times). In this first year of the program, it has been an exciting time as pharmacists from across the country weighed in with their opinions and stories—painting a picture of the pharmacist that provides a benchmark for future research and touch points that define the profession today.

Equally exciting is the awards program, which honors those pharmacists who bring innovation and creativity to their practices and affect their communities and patients with their commitment. We are proud to present the category winners in this issue.

The judges also selected a top winner— the 2010 Next-Generation Pharmacist of the Year—who was chosen to represent the profession. A special awards ceremony, to be held in Philadelphia on October 25, 2010, will unveil this pharmacistand a first for Pharmacy Times—as the cover subject of this month. American Pharmacists Month This is an especially appropriate month to celebrate our Next-Generation Pharmacist Award winners, as well as all the finalists and those who were nominated. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has encouraged all pharmacists to participate in their “Know Your Medicine, Know Your Pharmacist” campaign, so that the public gains a better understanding of the role pharmacists play and how they impact patient care.

Pharmacists, however, can often be frustrated by the perception of their role by the public, according to the APhA, so it is up to the individual pharmacist to educate customers, one at a time, on a daily basis. Our survey reveals some of these same frustrations, and the one-onone telephone responses offer insights and solutions as well.

Disadvantages of the Profession

Pharmacists, in general, are satisfied with their careers. The key ingredient for making it all work for them revolves around the joy of helping people and “making a difference.” As reported in our previous article, nearly two fifths of those surveyed consider pharmacy to be their “dream profession.” That is encouraging news for the profession, which also has its drawbacks and problems. The Next- Generation Pharmacist survey zeroed in on some of these more negative aspects when the respondents were asked, “What is the biggest disadvantage of your chosen profession?”

The answers revealed that pharmacists, first and foremost, were concerned about their work hours. A total of 25% said that this was the biggest disadvantage of being a pharmacist. Followed closely at 20% was “insurance/administrative burden,” which voiced the concern of many in the profession that too much time is spent on administrative work.

Pharmacists from the institutional and chain pharmacies responded with a total of 5% saying they were “understaffed,” and 4% responded that “standing” was the biggest disadvantage for pharmacists as a profession. Another 4% added “stress” as a major disadvantage, with some responses referring to the large responsibilities of pharmacists in general by saying “stress of having to get it right 100% of the time.”

Pharmacists also revealed that they most enjoyed patient counseling, but they spent most of their time on dispensing or administrative tasks. The pharmacist work day was thoroughly investigated with a question about the typical work day. Asked “Thinking about your typical work day, which of these four tasks do you enjoy the most…or take most of your time?” the results reveal some interesting insights (see Table).

Patient Counseling Most Enjoyable Task

Top on the list of enjoyable tasks is patient counseling (58%) with, the other stated tasks—clinical (19%), dispensing (17%), and administrative tasks (4%)—following behind as “enjoyable” tasks. Administrative tasks were rated as the least favorite task—only 4% stated that they enjoyed that task the most— and were seen as a burden and barrier to patient counseling. This tells us that the pharmacist is most comfortable when counseling patients, but the one task that takes up the bulk of their typical work day does not revolve around what they most enjoy about their careers.

In fact, the biggest time grabber is dispensing (45%) and the second highest time-consuming task is administrative tasks (39%). As far as patient counseling is concerned, the survey respondents reported that only 12% of a typical workday is associated with that task. The desired to work with patients is clear, but the work day only has so much time. When calculating the second most timeconsuming task in a typical day, administrative tasks still take first place at 28%, closely followed by dispensing (26%) and then patient counseling (24%).

The satisfaction level of time spent with patients was also probed with the majority of pharmacists (58%) responding that they were “somewhat” satisfied” when asked, “Overall, how satisfied are you with the amount of time you spend with patients?” Those that expressed complete dissatisfaction were at 9%, with 28% being “very satisfied” with the time they could give patients on a typical work day.

Technology Innovators

The Next-Generation Pharmacist survey also focused on the technology aspects of pharmacy and what the future may hold. First, the pharmacists were asked how they would rate their own pharmacies as a “technology innovator.” The percentage of pharmacists who rated their businesses as “excellent” in this area was 19% and 22% rated their pharmacies as “fair” or “poor.”

What makes a pharmacy excellent in technology? The answers revolved around the words “new” technology and “being the first” to rollout innovations as the main reasons for rating their pharmacies as having excellent technology in place. Interestingly, pharmacists also perceived this question only in terms of computers and software, and no pharmacist mentioned automation in the one-onone responses.

When asked “What is the most compelling reason to use technology in pharmacy?” a total of 17% of those surveyed responded that technology saved time, while 14% noted improved safety as a reason to use technology in their pharmacy. Institutional pharmacists valued the following compelling reason to use technology—“improved safety”(14%)— and 8% of the total respondents said that there was more “efficiency” with technology. The reduction of errors (8%) was also cited as another reason for the value of technology as was “improved accuracy” (7%) and “control of information” (6%). A portion (6%) noted that technology was “better for the patient.”

Current and Future Technology

What kinds of technology are currently being used? Those surveyed provided some insights: 31% use electronic prescribing (76% chain pharmacists use electronic prescribing), 15% use semi-automation or counting technology in their pharmacies, 14% use workflow software, 12% use computers, and 4% use bar coding/ scanning.

When asked what type of technology would be the most important for pharmacists in the next 5 years, the answers provided a window on the thinking of the pharmacist who envisions technology as the tool for the future. Cited as most important were electronic prescribing (22%), robotic dispensing (17%), computers or database (6%), semi-automation or counting technology (4%), workflow software (4%), and bar coding (3%).

Important Changes

The Next-Generation Pharmacist research program sought to understand what pharmacists thought were the most important changes in the industry today. When asked, “What is the main difference in the way you practice pharmacy, compared to the previous generation?” the answers were revealing. The role of the pharmacist in patient care stood out—with 22% citing more patient care and clinical involvement as a difference from the past. Chain pharmacists, in particular, cited this as important distinction.

Technology was also a focal issue, with 19% of those surveyed mentioning pharmacy automation, an electronic presence, or technology as a factor. Pharmacists also noted that pharmacy “leads the way” in faster and better technology. Community pharmacists cited computers as a major change from the previous generation, with 6% noting these as more common tools.

In terms of their own practices, the pharmacists were asked what changes they would make in the next 5 years, specifically focusing on what would be the single most important change. The answers contained a mix of technology related responses—with 4% planning on increasing their electronic prescribing or electronic presence and 8% planning on an increased use of pharmacy automation. Patient care was still on the minds of many, with 16% planning on being more involved in patient care.

Some pharmacists planned no changes in their practice (21%) and a fair number (13%) planned to retire in the next 5 years. The retirement of current pharmacists may well be one of the issues that shape the future as more pharmacy graduates come out of school into a tight job market.

In fact, one of the concerns about the next 5 years noted by survey respondents was employment (10%), as well as the impact of the health care plan (17%). Pharmacists in this survey voiced their concerns and hopes, but clearly they were committed to the future of their profession.

Bea Riemschneider, Editorial Director

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