Public Health Benefits of Including Pharmacists in Health Care Teams

Caitlin Cotter

This blog post is part of a weekly series focusing on different aspects of public health leading up to Public Health Thank You Day on Monday, November 21, 2016. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #PHTYD and visit www.publichealththankyouday.org for more information.

The U.S. is experiencing a shifting landscape of health care and public health. Access to care, quality of care, health care costs, medication adherence, and medication safety are top priorities to patients. Research has shown that, along with medication management, we can look to pharmacists to effectively provide preventive care and follow-up services, helping to address each of these priorities in easily accessible community locations.

“Over the past 20 years there has been more recognition, both inside and outside the profession, of why it makes so much sense for pharmacists to be doing more for public health,” said Lucinda Maine, Ph.D., R.Ph., Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and Research!America board member. “The CDC began to appreciate the fact, through data and research, that when a pharmacist is empowered and able to give the public immediate access to flu and pneumonia vaccines without an appointment, there is increased access to a vital and underutilized public health service—since on average there is a pharmacist in less than five miles from everyone in America.”

According to Dr. Maine, only 14 states empowered pharmacists to give vaccines in the early 1990s, but that expanded to states across the country granting pharmacists the ability to give not only influenza and pneumonia vaccines, but also tetanus and others, by 2005. Dr. Maine states that PharmD programs now train students in screening, both for early disease detection and longitudinal monitoring of problems like diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and there is great evidence for pharmacists to be involved in smoking cessation programs.

“We have a workforce of pharmacists trained in clinical pharmacy,” stated Dr. Maine, “that has grown fairly markedly. They have the knowledge, and they’ve been exposed to the practice roles.” While some states have taken up pharmacy practice regulations that empower pharmacy graduates to use their knowledge in an optimal way, or to engage with providers in collaborative practice arrangements that provide structured team-based approaches to care, not all states fully empower pharmacists. “Collaborative practice agreements and regulatory authority across the country presents a very varied picture,” said Dr. Maine. “That lack of consistency really limits the pharmacist’s full execution of those capabilities.”

According to Dr. Maine, the return on investment for including pharmacists within health care teams is on average 4 to 1, to the system and its participants. Pharmacist involvement also increases satisfaction with healthcare. Dr. Maine reported, “There is pretty good evidence that when medication management is a central component of a pharmacist’s work, there are better patient outcomes, and a higher level of patient and practitioner satisfaction, thus public health improves.”

While it makes intuitive sense that medication adherence and medication safety can be improved by pharmacists, these hard-working public health practitioners can also address the priorities of access to care, quality of care, and healthcare costs. Please join Research!America and partner organizations to thank pharmacists— and all other public health professionals— on Public Health Thank You Day, November 21!

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You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it sitting on your hands … The science community should reach out to Congress and build bridges.
The Honorable John E. Porter