The Vital Role of Community Pharmacists In Today’s Health Care Environment

While larger pharmacies can utilize a network of clinical resources, smaller community pharmacies are embracing their relationships with their local communities.

The role of community pharmacists has expanded in recent years. We offer our communities essential services like point-of-care testing, immunizations, medication advisory services, and even self-care recommendations for minor ailments. Simply put, we’re there for our patients beyond simple medication refills. The COVID-19 pandemic has only shined a spotlight on the importance of these practices.1

On average, Medicare beneficiaries visit their local pharmacist approximately twice as often as they see their primary care physician. Given our additional clinical responsibilities, there has been a recent push for pharmacists to be reimbursed appropriately for provider services, with advocacy efforts geared toward obtaining provider status under Medicare Part B.1-3

Pharmacists are a crucial part of the health care continuum and vital to medication safety in the long run. We provide an important clinical resource for prescribers and patients and must continue to build a foundation of trust within our local communities.

Fostering trust

The evolving role of pharmacists has changed pharmacy business models.1,2 Our primary focus is no longer on dispensing medications based on prescriber recommendations. Instead, we now work with providers and patients to make clinical recommendations for safer medication practices.1 As we take on these increased responsibilities, patient trust is key.1,2

While larger pharmacies can utilize a network of clinical resources, smaller community pharmacies are embracing their relationships with their local communities.6,9 As a local pharmacist serving a smaller population, I have developed relationships with my patients over many years. Because of this, many of them choose to visit my pharmacy over larger chains.

These personal relationships have also helped me to better serve my community. For example, I had gotten to know one of my younger patients since he started visiting my pharmacy. After falling on some hard times, he overdosed. Luckily, he felt comfortable calling me for help, and I was able to reach an ambulance in time. Without the trust we’d built over that longstanding relationship, that call may not have happened.

Identifying and mitigating risk

Often, patients will be prescribed multiple medications from different providers who may not be in touch with each other.1 As community pharmacists, we can identify any medicated-related risks and help to mitigate them. Helping our patients understand and improve their medication regimens empowers them to take charge of their health.1,8

In my experience, determining a patient’s level of medication-related risk comes:

  • Clinical judgement based on patient conversations and interactions
  • Notes from providers
  • Patient observations from their caregivers
  • Personal feedback from patients
  • Medication review tools like PrescribeWellness and MedWise Risk Scores™

A thorough medication review can help assess short- and long-term risks. For example, one of my long-time patients had been experiencing confusion and forgetfulness. At 52-years-old, she had been diagnosed with dementia and required a cane.

But her side effects were not due to cognitive impairment. Instead, they were the result of an adverse reaction to her prescriptions. After a simple adjustment to her medication regimen, she no longer needs assistance when walking, she isn’t confused or forgetful, and she seems much happier, healthier, and more comfortable consulting with me.

Looking forward

Our role as a patient resource will be crucial to the evolution of pharmacy practice. Many pharmacists have already taken on clinical responsibilities such as providing vaccines, screening for cardiovascular disease, and testing and self-management training for diabetes.1 These responsibilities are increasing and require appropriate compensation with provider status under Medicare Part B, especially in the face of burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic.1,2

As our place in the industry continues to develop, resources like PrescribeWellness and MedWise Risk Scores can help us optimize our patients’ medication regimens, minimize risks, and ultimately improve outcomes. By leveraging these tools to work with patients and ensure their safety, we can build and maintain trust in our local communities.

About the Author

Trevor Bertsch, PharmD, MBA, is a community pharmacist at U-Save Pharmacy in his hometown of Norfolk, NE. He has an undergraduate degree from Wayne State College, and his MBA and PharmD are from Creighton University. Dr. Bertsch likes to take complex concepts and make them understandable and fun for patients. He enjoys time with his wife, two little boys, and friends and family, as well as reading, sports, astronomy, and hiking.

References

  1. Community Pharmacists Roles During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Journal of Pharmacy Practice
  2. Evaluation of Frequency of Encounters With Primary Care Physicians vs Visits to Community Pharmacies Among Medicare Beneficiaries, JAMA Network
  3. Pharmacy’s Top Priority: Medicare Provider Status Recognition, APhA
  4. Provider Status, ashp
  5. The Future of Community Pharmacy: Direct Patient Care, AACP
  6. Pharma Life Sciences
  7. Reflections on the Pharmacist-Patient Covenant, NCBI
  8. Understanding public trust in services provided by community pharmacists relative to those provided by general practitioners: a qualitative study, BMJ open
  9. A piece of the pie: Independents build new business models, DSN
  10. The Impact of Provider Networks on the Co-prescriptions of Interacting Drugs: A Claims-based Analysis, NCBI
  11. Preventive & screening services, Medicare.gov