Don’t Overlook a Local Health Resource: Pharmacists

As submitted to the San Diego Union-Tribune

By California Pharmacists Association CEO Jon R. Roth, CAE and National Community Pharmacists Association CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA

Health care is changing dramatically. And the role of pharmacists, perennially one of the most trusted professionals according to Gallup, is evolving, too.

First, complex medical conditions that, in the past, often required hospitalizations and other expensive interventions can now be effectively managed or reversed through prescription drug treatments. That is, if these medications are used properly.

The improper use of medication has been estimated to cause up to $290 billion every year in additional health care costs, according to NEHI. $290 billion! Local pharmacists are available, no appointment necessary, to speak with patients face-to-face to ensure consumers get the maximum health benefit out of the medication therapy that their physician has prescribed.

Second, America is in the midst of a new wave of generic drugs entering the market. When used appropriately, these lower-cost and equally effective medicines can reduce patient co-pays and cut overall health care spending by billions of dollars. Community pharmacists are available every day to work with physicians and consumers, to review their medication history, to alert them to new generics coming onto the market and to ensure that patients receive the maximum savings from generic drugs and the full value of their prescription drug benefit.

Third, pharmacists are increasingly a source of immunizations. The number of pharmacists certified to administer vaccinations has quadrupled since 2007, according to the American Pharmacists Association. October also marks the beginning of flu season in many parts of the country. During the 2010-2011 season, a record 18.4 percent of the Americans who received an influenza vaccination were immunized by pharmacists. Patients can walk into pharmacies virtually any time, and receive this protection for a fraction of what it can cost in other health care settings.

Fourth, as the flu shot experience illustrates, community pharmacies are becoming a health resource for more than prescription drugs alone. Many communities currently have a shortage of access to primary care. Our country could have about 63,000 fewer doctors than it needs by 2015, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. These primary care shortages are most dire in underserved rural and inner-city areas.

Here, too, pharmacists are playing a larger health care role and are poised to play an even bigger one in the future. Blood pressure and cholesterol checks, weight loss counseling, diabetes education and smoking cessation. These are just some of the services that pharmacists are providing, in addition to immunizations.

Independent community pharmacies, in particular, are an integral part of our health care network. In many of the rural and inner-city areas, where the lack of access to primary care is the most severe, they are the sole pharmacy provider available. Over 1,800 independent pharmacies are the only pharmacies in their rural community, with the next closest pharmacy often 20 miles away. In addition, patients have singled out independent pharmacies for their service, responsiveness, and overall health care value, according to surveys by Consumer Reports, J.D. Power and Associates and others. There are 2,137 independently owned pharmacies in California, including 26 in San Diego.

Individual health needs and health care preferences vary from person to person. And it's preferable for patients to have a choice in order to select the providers (including pharmacists) that meet their needs. But don't overlook one easy-to-find resource: your independent community pharmacist.

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