The Expanding Role of the Pharmacist in the Specialty Care Continuum

Tracy Russell, senior director of State Government Affairs at CoverMyMeds, discusses how the role of the pharmacist in the specialty pharmacy space has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Tracy Russell, senior director of State Government Affairs at CoverMyMeds, on her presentation at Asembia Summit 2022 titled Legislation Affecting the Future of Specialty Pharmacies: From the State to Federal Level.

Question: How has the role of the pharmacist on the patient care team expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Tracy Russell: The pandemic really put a spotlight on pharmacists and their accessibility and the trust that people have in them as health care professionals. They've consistently been voted one of the most trusted health care professionals in health care, and more than proven that they are an integral part of the patient's care team.

In addition, pharmacists also play a primary role in advising patients on prescribing cost. According to the 2022 Medication Access Report, in the last year, 52% of patients felt like their relationship with their pharmacist has changed, 37% of patients relied on their pharmacist for information related to a condition and their medication, and a similar amount of patients relied on their provider or relied on their pharmacist to explain options for medication—and all of that is positive.

This impacts specialty pharmacy in a different way because we're seeing that patients on specialty therapies utilize not only a specialty pharmacy, but other pharmacy settings for their total health care needs. It kind of creates an emerging hybrid pharmacy model; that's kind of a new model. It emphasizes the need for the industry to build better connections and smoother patient experiences.

Question: What are some potential future expansions of the pharmacist’s role in light of the changes that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Tracy Russell: Well, today, America's pharmacists are really beginning to expand their roles in the health care continuum with wellness screenings, telepharmacy counseling, providing diagnosis for acute conditions, and prescribe medications to treat them. I believe we'll see a transition from transactional care to more direct patient care responsibilities for pharmacists to be more involved; pharmacy will be in the forefront of this given that level of care that their patients already need.

While pharmacists have great potential to become even more active as part of the patient's care team that we've seen through specialty telemedicine, as mentioned, I think the scope of practice and reimbursement are going to be some of the challenges. Better integration between pharmacy and medical services are what's needed, along with access to the necessary data and information that empowers the pharmacy and the process.

Then, an example of patient access to specific data is when providers need that information to make sure that patients are able to afford their medications. So the ability to surface the patient's benefit and cost information as a key factor to reduce some of that administrative burden for the providers across the care team allows more focus on care and focus on the patient.