Team-Based Care: How Pharmacists Can Expand Patient Access to Health Care

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However, comprehensive policy and payment structures are needed to ensure care sustainability.

During the winter season, pharmacists are at their busiest.1 This winter, pharmacists remain hard at work to close the vaccination gap of 1 in 5 adults up-to-date on immunizations.2 But while pharmacists are spending more time administering vaccines to protect patients against common illnesses, they continue to provide care to patients through other services which can ensure patients are able to access the prescriptions they need efficiently and safely.

With the provision of pharmacy services, data have shown there has been a 47% increase in the number of e-prescriptions issued by pharmacists between 2019 and 2022 in some care settings, given the expanded use of collaborative practice agreements in all 50 states.3,4 These data also show that pharmacists are helping care for patients with chronic conditions, prescribing most often for diseases such as diabetes, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and blood thinning medications.

Pharmacists are essential care providers who are enhancing patients’ access to quality care. With positive impacts like these, pharmacists have an opportunity to play a key role in filling other gaps in care.

By the Numbers

Primary care provider (PCP) shortages are reaching alarming levels. Today, nearly half of all US counties have just one PCP for every 1500 people.5 By 2034, there is an expected shortage of up to 124,000 physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates.6 Additionally, 61% of counties with a relative PCP shortage have been noted to have a high volume of pharmacies.7 Both PCPs and pharmacists agree that team-based care is a priority, and even a majority of providers believe it’s important for the industry to move to team-based care.8

Both PCPs and pharmacists agree that team-based care is a priority, and even a majority of providers believe it’s important for the industry to move to team-based care. Image Credit: © ChasingMagic/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

Both PCPs and pharmacists agree that team-based care is a priority, and even a majority of providers believe it’s important for the industry to move to team-based care. Image Credit: © ChasingMagic/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

However, worsening burnout among clinicians is driving shortages not only among PCPs, but also among pharmacies. In a National Community Pharmacists Association survey published in August 2022, the results showed that more than three-quarters of community pharmacies say they are having trouble filling open positions.9 In an American Society of Health-System Pharmacists survey published in March 2022, the results showed that 89% of health system pharmacies needed to use pharmacists to take on pharmacy technician duties, and 48% had to reduce pharmacy services due to the shortage.10

Why This Matters

People age 65 and older are expected to reach 22% of the US population by 2040. Additionally, approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, while 60% have at least 2 chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension.11,12

The data shows that pharmacists have a role—and in some cases are already filling that role today—in chronic disease management. Further, pharmacists are well-suited to this role given their education, specialized training, and experience.13

When given prescriptive authority, pharmacists can leverage their education and training to have an even bigger impact on patient care. They can ensure that a patient is taking medications that are indicated, effective, safe, and convenient. Also, ambulatory care practices have integrated pharmacists, and there is evidence that their success could be translated more broadly to the community pharmacy setting.14

However, collaborative practice agreements exist in some form across the country, but to truly empower pharmacists to support patient care as part of a team, and staff up their pharmacies accordingly to alleviate burnout, broader policy and payment structures must align with the level of care pharmacists are providing.

What’s Next

Innovative technology is essential to streamline pharmacy operations and empower pharmacists to prioritize their patients’ care and vaccine administration while also managing heavy workloads. Technology is key to supporting each member of the care team to work at the full extent of their education and training by eliminating inefficiencies such as phone calls and faxes, further driving care team collaboration that benefits patients. With continued innovation and the promise of artificial intelligence lifting administrative burdens, we know technology will always be improving and doing more for our care providers and the patients in their care.

About the Author

Shannon Reidt, PharmD, MPH, MS, is the director of Medication Research and Analytics at Surescripts. Reidt guides research and analytics priorities across the organization, with a significant emphasis on exploring interoperability to support community pharmacists and understanding how primary care shortages impact prescriber behavior.

Prior to joining Surescripts, Reidt began her career in health care as a practicing pharmacist who spent time in a variety of clinical environments including family medicine clinics, home care, skilled nursing facilities and hospitals. Recognizing that her experience providing direct patient care could inform and support the advancement of the practice of pharmacy more broadly, she also spent time as a pharmacy educator and later, lent her insights in research-focused roles and to develop analytical software tools. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

REFERENCES

  1. Al-Arshani S. Covid-19, RSV, flu or a cold? figuring out what your symptoms mean this fall and winter. USA Today. October 9, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2023/10/09/covid-19-rsv-flu-cold-symptoms-fall-winter-season/71068538007/
  2. Adult immunization: Importance of staying up to date with vaccines. Immunize.org. June 5, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www.immunize.org/wp-content/uploads/catg.d/p4033.pdf
  3. Le LM, Veettil SK, Donaldson D, et al. The impact of pharmacist involvement on immunization uptake and other outcomes: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2022;62(5):1499-1513.e16. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2022.06.008
  4. Data Brief: Prescribing Patterns & Care Location Data Hint at the Future of Primary Care. Surescripts. October 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://surescripts.widen.net/view/pdf/gy5r7zb5g2/data-brief-pharmacy-prescribing-primary-care.pdf
  5. Data Brief: How Are Care Teams Evolving to Fill Primary Care Gaps? Surescripts. April 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://engage.surescripts.com/interoperability/items/how-are-care-teams-evolving-to-fill-primary-care-gaps
  6. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2019 to 2034. Association of American Medical Colleges. June 2021. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www.aamc.org/media/54681/download
  7. Evolving the care team to expand access for patients. Surescripts. 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://surescripts.com/evolving-care-team-expand-access
  8. Data Brief: Prescribers & Pharmacists Look for More Collaboration & New Technologies to Improve Care. August 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://surescripts.widen.net/s/prpnpzm9tq/newsmaker-survey-data-brief-2023
  9. Survey: Three-Quarters of Community Pharmacies Report Staff Shortages. NCPA. August 2022. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://ncpa.org/newsroom/news-releases/2022/08/11/survey-three-quarters-community-pharmacies-report-staff-shortages
  10. Pharmacy Technician Shortage Survey Findings. ASHP. March 2022. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www.ashp.org/-/media/assets/pharmacy-technician/docs/Technician-Shortage-Survey-Exec-Summary.pdf
  11. Talking with your older patients. National Institute on Aging. Last reviewed on January 25, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/health-care-professionals-information/talking-your-older-patients
  12. 2020 profile of older Americans - ACL administration for Community Living. Administration for Community Living. 2020. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/2020ProfileOlderAmericans.Final_.pdf
  13. Antwerp GV, Elsner N, Myers G, Bhatt V, Shah S. The pharmacist of the future. Deloitte Insights. June 6, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/health-care/future-of-pharmacists.html
  14. Luli AJ, Awdishu L, Hirsch JD, Watanabe JH, Bounthavong M, Morello CM. Transferring Key Success Factors from Ambulatory Care into the Community Pharmacy in the United States. Pharmacy. 2021;9(3):116. doi:10.3390/pharmacy9030116
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