Community Pharmacies Fill Growing Needs

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As published in the The Tennessean

Americans have nearly 4 billion prescriptions filled each year but may be too busy to consider what's happening behind the pharmacy counter. So, with thousands of community pharmacists gathering in Nashville this month for an annual national meeting, here is a pop quiz.

Which of the following is true of your pharmacist?

A) About one in two patients does not take their medication properly, and pharmacists are a source of expert counseling.

B) Prescription drugs are more important and complex than ever, and pharmacists train longer and harder than ever before to stay abreast of advances in the profession.

C) Pharmacists help fill some primary care needs and often make physician referrals to patients who might not have gone to see a doctor otherwise.

D) There are over 23,000 family-owned community pharmacies in the U.S. (566 in Tennessee) providing more than 300,000 jobs and generating $92.8 billion to local economies.

E) All of the above.

Contradictory as it may sound, all are realities of community pharmacies today.

A) Too many patients are not taking their medication as prescribed. Known by pharmacists and physicians as the "adherence" problem, this costs the overall health-care system $290 billion annually and, more importantly, results in poorer health outcomes.

Face-to-face consultations with community pharmacists are the best way to ensure the optimal use of medication, studies show. Some insurance companies try to persuade employers to require their employees to use mail-order pharmacies. However, studies show patients are more likely to take their medications when obtained at a community pharmacy.

Many community pharmacists are offering new ways to ensure patients take their medication for optimum benefit. Sometimes it takes the form of pharmacist-patient consultations known as medication therapy management. There's also a growing move toward synchronized refills. That means one stop at the pharmacy to pick up and review one's medications, or one prompt delivery to your home — a service offered by most independent community pharmacies.

B) Prescription drugs are increasingly complex, so pharmacists today must be more highly trained than ever. At least six years of college study are required to become a pharmacist, followed by annual continuing education.

C) The pharmacy profession is undergoing a transformation to better meet patients' medication therapy needs. Medications and their appropriate use will always be the pharmacist's first priority. In addition, pharmacists are collaborating with other members of the health-care team, including physicians, to provide primary care services related to medication use. Immunizations are now common in pharmacies. Disease-specific patient services are growing, too. Pharmacists are providing diabetes education and helping patients achieve health-care goals such as cholesterol, blood pressure and quitting smoking.

D) Community pharmacies are recognized by patients for superlative customer service and competitive prices, as demonstrated in surveys by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates. To independent community pharmacists, most patients are a name, not a number. In many rural areas, the independent pharmacy is the only pharmacy around and a true health-care resource.

Independent pharmacies are a vital part of the community's fabric and contribute greatly to local health care, jobs and tax revenue. Stop in and see us. We live where you do.

B. Douglas Hoey is CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association. Baeteena M. Black is executive director of the Tennessee Pharmacists Association.The National Community Pharmacists Association and the Tennessee Pharmacists Association annual convention is Oct. 8-12 in Nashville.

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B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA
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