Southern California Pharmacists Expanding Their Role

By John Norton

An intriguing example of how pharmacist-driven pilot programs are helping to reinvent health care is contained in the Los Angeles Times’ article by Soumya Karlamangla called “Pharmacists try a more personal approach to treatment”.

PharmacistThanks to a $12 million federal grant, University of Southern California (USC) clinical pharmacy professor Steven Chen has enlisted pharmacists to help patients with chronic conditions at 10 clinics run by AltaMed in Los Angeles and Orange County, California. The perspective provided by Chen, along with participating pharmacist Sangeeta Salvi and a patient named Jose Alvarez, offer a window into what transformative health care delivery can look like. The article describes the pharmacist-patient interactions where:

“On average, clinical pharmacists in the USC program find 10 drug-related problems per patient—things such as taking the wrong dosage or missing a needed medicine. But they also act as a sort of medical counselor, helping patients with a range of issues, including diet, exercise and stresses of all kinds…Patients usually see their pharmacists once a month, while they see their primary-care doctors a few times a year. And pharmacist visits are typically longer, lasting up to an hour”

The federal government’s funding of the USC pilot program and similarly geared programs around the country—such as NCPA member Joe Moose’s efforts in North Carolina—recognize the ability of pharmacists to both address the medication non-adherence problem and also fill some of the gaps created as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s increase in the number of newly insured patients.

The USC program follows the well-documented trend of benefits for patients, payers and pharmacists. In fact, the early data supports the contention that a greater role for the pharmacist in a patient’s care ultimately saves money by reducing the need for more expensive medical treatments.

The further integration of pharmacists into a team-based approach to health care has already gained a foothold in California. Last year the Golden State enacted SB 493—a bill that broadens the array of services pharmacists can provide and receive compensation. The push for similar legislation in other states got a boost when earlier this year the National Governors Association issued a white paper on the topic called “The Expanding Role of Pharmacists in a Transformed Health Care System”. At the federal level companion bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives—S. 314 and H.R. 592, the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act—which enables pharmacists to be reimbursed for expanded services for seniors under the Medicare Part B program.

The momentum for pharmacists to play a more active role in health care is clearly gaining more traction. Now the challenge is for more pharmacists to find additional opportunities to demonstrate their worth—and NCPA is here to help. Take a look at the NCPA website, specifically the new Diversified Revenue Opportunities section. You can also check out the NCPA YouTube page, NCPAVids, which includes a number of different videos focused on rethinking your business.

In the competitive pharmacy marketplace, where the health care delivery system continues to evolve, independent community pharmacies can and must succeed. Not only will this be good for pharmacies, but patient outcomes will improve and costs will ultimately go down. Don’t take my word for it…just look at what’s happening with AltaMed.

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