Partnerships Can Strengthen Community Pharmacy, Advocacy to Promote Better Health Care Outcomes


Educator and pharmacy advocate encourages pharmacists to work together to improve the scope of the profession and patient access to services.

Julie Akers, PharmD, FWSPA, associate dean of External Relations and associate professor at Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Spokane, Washington, joins Pharmacy Times at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Total Store Expo, happening August 12 through 14, 2023, in sunny San Diego, California. Akers discusses how pharmacies are perfectly placed to improve health access and outcomes in US communities, along with the importance of advocacy and doing so in a way that is tailored to the individual.

PT Staff: With ample technology and health care delivery solutions being created, why does health care access continue to be below optimal?

Julie Akers, PharmD, FWSPA: So access to health care is more than just there being technology. I know that we're seeing a huge growth in telehealth and we're seeing bluetooth-enabled devices that people can have in their homes. But that also requires that people have access to internet or high-speed internet, or that they even have the ability to log on to some of these modalities. Having something doesn't mean you know how to use it. And then we also see a lot of people that are underserved, or in underserved populations that might live in an area where there is access to say high speed internet to do a telehealth appointment, but they don't have the ability to purchase technology. And so it really isn't the best option for them. And so I think where we can see technology coming into community pharmacy specifically, is partnering with those community pharmacies. So those people who live in that rural community that maybe don't have strong broadband, or they don't know really how to get on to a telehealth appointment, they can partner with that community pharmacy, maybe that pharmacy sets up a little corner where people can come in and do private telehealth appointments, right, and then still have that that learned person that helped professional in their community that they can ask questions of as well.

PT Staff: Speaking on your time at an independent chain, how can these stores leverage access to the community to improve public health outcomes?

Julie Akers, PharmD, FWSPA: With community pharmacies, I think most of us have heard this before, [but] we are the most successful health care provider. And sadly, it's getting a lower and lower percent, but currently, we're at about 90% of people are within 5 miles of a community pharmacy. And so leveraging that and leveraging that easy access to a healthcare provider is important. And I think what's unique about a community pharmacist is that patients see [the community] pharmacist significantly more in a year's time span than they do their primary care provider or a specialist. The pharmacist knows them, they're going to know if something seems off. You know, we're really worried about mental health right now and community pharmacist is someone who's going to know if that patient is struggling. They know their kids’ names, they know their grandparents, they know their dog's name, they probably fill a prescription for their dog or cat. And so, I think that’s truly the value [of] community pharmacists, being in those communities. They're members of the community. If they have children, they all go to the same school. They're invested in the health of the community beyond just being someone who goes to work every day.

PT Staff: Howis pharmacy advocacy linked to politics?

Julie Akers, PharmD, FWSPA: So I am very passionate about advocacy. And it goes hand-in-hand with politics. So when we think about at the state level, health professions are regulated at the state level, what you are allowed to do is at the state level, and that really comes from state legislature, through statutes, but also your commission or Board of Pharmacy, for our profession, in the regulatory realm. And so there's a lot of politics that go into that you really need to understand the process, you need to understand how to stakeholder what, what is the process to go testify, if there's something in your state legislature, that's a bill that you feel passionate about. And it could change access to patients for your services or improve what your profession is allowed to do to provide that access to care. So I think it's really important for people to either number one be involved themselves, or many people will say that it's complex and they really just don't have the time. So that's when I encourage people to be a member of their state and national association because we really need to push provider status at the federal level as well. And that's all advocacy, and it's highly political, and working with the regulatory agencies to change that. And it's not easy for everybody. I'm one of those few who loves to go to my state capitol and testify on bills and I'm very passionate about doing so. I teach an elective course so that my students know how to go advocate, and they're encouraged to do so. But it's not for everybody. And that's where, with those state associations/national associations, if it's not for you [then] be a member and help those other people who are passionate about it. Fight for you.

PT Staff: Howcan law, like the new interprofessional precepting law, more effectively increase healthcare accessibility and improve healthcare-related outcomes?

Julie Akers, PharmD, FWSPA: So we are very fortunate in Washington state, that it actually came from our WSU health science campus where we had a law passed in our state that allows interprofessional precepting. And really, that's for those health science students on our campus, mainly for pharmacy, medicine, and nursing. And we found that our students are very engaged in the community, they do a lot of service-learning events. And they are the main health care provider for a lot of underserved populations in our community. But some instances, one specifically that I was involved in, where I had students from medicine, pharmacy, and nursing at an event where we were doing stroke risk assessments, glucose testing, blood pressure, body mass index, and really just trying to educate people on chronic diseases and management of those diseases. And the other health professional faculty had an emergency and couldn't make it to the event. So I was there with pharmacy students who I was having do things, but the nursing students and the medical students couldn't participate. They could do the paperwork and the patient intake, but I couldn't oversee them even giving an immunization. And so it was really important for us to get this law passed where as long as it's within the scope of the preceptor.

So in scope of a pharmacist, physician or nurse, they could oversee those other health professions students doing the same. And we've already especially this past just before COVID-19. And this came just the right time for us because we were able to take students from all of those health science programs and do COVID-19 testing, because it was within pharmacist’s scope. I could take—and my other faculty could take—students out from all those professions and really provide health care during times of a global pandemic. And I think that it's also preparing the students they're learning from a professional, that's not their future profession. And I think it teaches them early on the importance of interprofessional health care and that they can rely on someone that doesn't have the same initials after their name as they do.

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