Independent Pharmacies Vital to Rural Health, Study Affirms

By Kevin Schweers

Independent community pharmacies continue to play a critical role in rural health care, according to new research. The ranks of these pharmacies declined slightly in recent years and somewhat stabilized after several turbulent years that coincided with implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, researchers concluded.

The Rural Policy Research Institute’s Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis conducted the analysis.

There are approximately 6,700 independently owned rural pharmacies, researchers found. In addition to providing prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication and consultation on their proper use, most of these pharmacies also provide other essential health care services. These include blood pressure checks, diabetes counseling and immunizations.

Among these rural independent pharmacies are 1,773 that serve as the only pharmacy in their community. The next closest pharmacy is at least 10 miles away and, in some instances, much farther than that.

Examining the 2003-2013 period, 490 rural communities lost their only convenient retail pharmacy access during this time.

“Loss of pharmacists in rural areas, particularly in areas where there was only one pharmacist in the community, can have serious implications for health care provision,” according to the study.

NCPA continues to advocate for pharmacy choice (or “any willing pharmacy”) and other policies to support these important pharmacy and health care providers and to help ensure they can stay open for patients in these and other communities.

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