NYT Article Highlights Pharmacists' Expanding Role

“Pharmacists Take Larger Role on Health Team” was the headline of an article in last Friday’s New York Times, indicating a growing awareness of recent shifts in the pharmacy profession toward individualized patient care and medication therapy management (MTM).

Written by health columnists Reed Abelson and Natasha Singer, the feature offers a comprehensive overview of several successfully implemented MTM programs, beginning with the personal experience of Eloise Gelinas—a patient with diabetes.

After developing a close relationship with her local pharmacists through counseling programs, Gelinas was able to control her blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. “While some of the services being offered Ms. Gelinas resemble those found in an old-fashioned neighborhood drugstore, others reflect the expanding role of the nation’s pharmacists,” wrote Abelson and Singer.

The article also highlights growing interest of health insurers in the cost-saving potential of pharmacy services. For example, Andrew Halpert, MD, senior medical director of Blue Shield of California, is profiled as a vocal advocate of MTM for patients with chronic illness. “Blue shield views pharmacists as having the education, expertise, free time, and plain-spoken approach to talk to patients at length about what medicines they are taking,” according to the report.

Also referenced is North Carolina’s famous Asheville Project, where, according to Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS, “we really positioned the pharmacist as coach.” Other MTM projects and initiatives cited in the article include:

  • UnitedHeath Group’s partnership with Walgreens and the Y.M.C.A. to deliver pharmacist-provided MTM services to patients with diabetes
  • The government’s plan to offer MTM benefits to approximately 1 in 4 Medicare Part D beneficiaries
  • The Affordable Care Act’s provision of grants to fund projects that involve counseling by pharmacists
  • The Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative, a partnership between health insurers and pharmacists to create a pay-for-performance project to standardize best practices in MTM
  • Health insurance provider Humana’s sponsorship of MTM benefits for Medicare patients in 1/3 of its 62,000 in-network pharmacies
  • Mirixa’s work linking pharmacies to health plans, health care providers, employers, and pharmaceutical companies to improve access to MTM services
  • The Diabetes Ten City Challenge, a recent study supported by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline that provided free diabetes medications to patients who agreed to attend counseling sessions with a pharmacist.

In a description that echoes the recent campaigns of pharmacy advocacy organizations, Abelson and Singer wrote that pharmacists “represent the front line of detecting prescription overlap or dangerous interaction between drugs and for recommending cheaper options to expensive medicines.”

The report follows on the heels of similar features in major publications that cite pharmacists as a way to improve quality of care and reduce costs. A recent editorial by pharmacy school dean

R. Pete Vanderveen

, PhD, RPh, appeared in the Wall Street Journal, for example. Entitled "How to Care for 30 Million More Patients," it proposed pharmacists as the solution to an anticipated shortage of physicians following health care reform.

In an earlier piece published in the Washington Post, Jennifer Brokaw, MD, an emergency physician, said more pharmacy-based clinics were needed prevent the exorbitant cost of treating non-urgent medical problems in emergency rooms. "The recent trend toward low-cost, retail- and pharmacy-based clinics has been a relative success for what these facilities offer: quick evaluation and treatment for simple problems," she wrote.