Filling a prescription has never been simpler: medications can be obtained through various online pharmacies and telemedicine sites, while discount cards and coupons are readily available.
But with these services comes one major drawback: lack of access to a local pharmacist. Although that might not seem like much when just filling or refilling prescriptions, it could mean missing out on guidance and support from one.
Jill Taylor of Tulsa, Oklahoma – 55 and founder and full-time homesteader at Happy Farmyard, an online resource for raising farm animals – found such support vital in her journey.
Taylor was diagnosed with pericardial effusion, a chronic heart condition characterized by too much fluid around your heart, in 2015. She feared taking the medications her doctor prescribed would be overwhelming and noted he didn’t have time to answer all her questions about treatment.
“That is when my pharmacist came in,” she stated. “He explained that his services weren’t just limited to providing prescriptions – they also served as experts on my overall health journey.
Taylor noted how her pharmacist took great care to go over each medication she was prescribed and encourage her to ask any pertinent questions, explain how they worked, and show her how to take them correctly. Additionally, he prepared her for potential side effects as well as checked for potentially hazardous interactions between her medications.
Taylor was assisted by her pharmacist throughout her recovery journey, including setting expectations about it, setting up support systems to assist her with taking her medications, providing resources that helped make informed decisions regarding her care, and checking on her regularly to ensure everything was alright.
“Having a pharmacist as part of my team gave me confidence to adhere to my treatment plans and feel in charge of my own healthcare journey,” she stated. “That is something no prescription can provide.”
Taylor isn’t alone in turning to pharmacists as healthcare providers (HCPs). A 2022 study discovered that patients tend to visit community pharmacies nearly twice as frequently as doctors or other qualified HCPs, particularly women aged 50+ who use pharmacy services most frequently. According to this research, male users were significantly less likely to utilize pharmacy services frequently.
Many states are beginning to recognize pharmacists as HCPs. Massachusetts passed legislation in 2021 which officially recognized pharmacists as HCPs who can be integrated into care teams and reimbursed by insurance for their services. Nevada followed suit with legislation which removes certain restrictions placed upon pharmacists so as to enable them to assist patients more readily while practicing collaboratively alongside HCPs.
These developments underscore an emerging recognition that pharmacists can play an essential role in patients’ care teams. Though pharmacists do not diagnose or provide medical advice directly, they can offer guidance about which over-the-counter medications to take and how best to take them, as well as provide information regarding possible interactions or potential risks between medications and side effects.
Pharmacy technicians can help ensure patients understand how to take their medications correctly. In certain states, pharmacists may even provide more complex treatments, such as hormonal contraceptives and HIV medications. Furthermore, pharmacists can advise when it is necessary for patients to consult a healthcare practitioner regarding serious medical concerns.
La Vonia Cannon, MBA and BS Pharm has observed first-hand how pharmacists have evolved over the past 20 years.
“Pharmacists can play an even larger role in helping address the challenges facing both healthcare systems and patients today,” she added.
According to Cannon, pharmacies now provide testing and immunizations and assist people in managing chronic diseases, freeing HCPs up for more targeted consultation with those most in need of support.
Cannon reported that pharmacies are increasingly working together with primary care providers to coordinate patient care. Pharmacies also offer “test and treat” services where pharmacists conduct certain tests before providing medications – for instance an antiviral after a positive Covid-19 test result.
“I am delighted to see pharmacists playing an increasingly prominent role in healthcare,” she declared. “Trust in pharmacists as trusted health resources has only increased.”
Pharmacists Are More Than Medication Dispensers
Danielle Plummer, Pharm.D from Las Vegas uses her training to do far more than simply dispensing medicine. She serves both hospital pharmacies and consulting pharmacies educating healthcare providers as well as advocating on behalf of pregnant patients experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), an illness which causes extreme nausea and vomiting during gestation.
“Pharmacists are shifting away from dispensing roles due to technology and an emphasis on vaccines and disease state education,” according to Plummer.
She stated that many pharmacists are now trained, certified and recognized as integral members of clinical care teams in hospitals, clinics and long-term care settings. Their role continues to expand with job openings at insurance companies, drug manufacturers, public health departments and startups all offering positions for pharmacists.
Plummer predicts that soon, pharmacists will increasingly work in primary care offices to oversee medication management for safety and insurance concerns instead of working at retail pharmacies.
Taylor credits her pharmacist as being invaluable in finding medications and dosages to control her pericardial effusion.
“My pharmacist has been an invaluable member of my healthcare team,” she noted. “I am grateful that she provides such knowledgeable assistance as I strive to manage my condition.”