Three Strategies for Pharmacists to Maximize Their Potential as Caregivers Beyond the Bench

In recent years, pharmacist roles have evolved as critically important caregivers who increasingly provide essential health care services far beyond medication dispensing.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of a pharmacist is “a health-care professional licensed to engage in pharmacy with duties including dispensing prescription drugs, monitoring drug interactions, administering vaccines, and counseling patients regarding the effects and proper usage of drugs and dietary supplements.”

Although this definition is technically accurate, it does not account for the ongoing evolution of the pharmacist occupation. In recent years, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacist roles have evolved “beyond the bench,” as these critically important caregivers increasingly provide essential health care services far beyond medication dispensing.

Today’s highly trained pharmacists are entering the workforce with deep knowledge in provider readiness, population health, and other fundamental health care skillsets. Yet several drivers, including federal and state regulations, have hindered efforts to maximize the potential of these essential providers.

Although we are seeing some positive momentum, such as the FDA authorizing pharmacists to prescribe COVID-19 medication, there is still much work to be done to break the chains tying pharmacists to the bench.

Here are 3 strategies for pharmacists to maximize their potential as caregivers.

1. Advocate for Change
Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” holds true for pharmacists. Pharmacy is a highly fragmented profession with little sense of community across clinics, hospitals, and retail/independent pharmacists. For legislative change to occur, pharmacists must unite as one to promote change.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is a prime example of uniting to drive change. Since its inception in 1896, the ANA has been instrumental in lobbying Congress, advocating for change that impacts nurses’ careers, such as fighting for fair reimbursements of health care services provided.

The American Pharmacist Association (APhA) is certainly moving in the right direction in the support and advocacy of pharmacists. The 2022 APhA Strategic Plan speaks directly to advocating for the expansion of pharmacist-provided services, as well as advancing the adoption of care delivery models that expand the scope of pharmacists’ traditional roles.

2. Support Your Community with Enhanced Services
Recently, there has been a palpable shift in the perception of pharmacists and their crucial role in the care continuum. COVID-19 is one of those driving forces that initiated this shift. During the pandemic, pharmacists were at the center of testing, vaccination, and treatment. In addition, pharmacies were instrumental in supporting the overburdened health care system throughout the pandemic, serving as pediatric and adult vaccine centers and providing access to life-saving medications.

Pharmacists must capitalize on this momentum and continue to demonstrate their value as an accessible, reliable source of health care for their communities. Like any other provider, pharmacists are specialized in certain clinical areas, and provide a wealth of knowledge for a range of health care issues such as family planning, chronic conditions, and smoking cessation.

The key is to find opportunities where pharmacists have the time, tools, and resources to privately sit down with patients, listen to and assess their problems to provide clinical guidance and address their health concerns. Sharing more clinical responsibility with pharmacists will help expand access and affordability of care for the community.

3. Leverage Technology to Increase Revenue Streams
Technology is one of the most critical tools to help pharmacists evolve their roles beyond the bench. Software designed for traditional provider offices, such as electronic health records (EHRs), can be customized for pharmacies to ensure they capture specific data and information needed to successfully submit claims for services offered.

If pharmacists had the capability to consistently bill for services provided, this would improve the bottom line and foster the expansion of staffing and clinical services to make an even bigger impact on the health and wellbeing of their communities. The pharmacy profession must adapt and utilize EHRs and population health management tools to take advantage of the payment opportunities that payers are offering pharmacies.

About the Author
Matthew Yeates, PharmD, is the director of Clinical Services at Grants Pass Pharmacy (Grants Pass, OR). He received his Doctorate of Pharmacy at the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy.