Inside This Issue - News
New age dawns for pharmacy
September 10th, 2012
DENVER – These are tumultuous times for the country’s health care and political systems, conditions that raise the stakes for retail pharmacy and impel the industry to take a more proactive stance in shaping its own destiny. Speakers at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy & Technology Conference here acknowledged the challenge and said that members of the profession are meeting it head on.
Greg Wasson, NACDS chairman and president and chief executive officer of Walgreen Co., told attendees that pharmacy is buffeted by conflicting forces, with the need to contain spiralling health care costs prompting some to want to limit the role played by the profession.
“Over the years we’ve become very efficient dispensers of medications and are still the most knowledgeable health care professionals about their proper use,” he said. “However, now millions of tablets can be dispensed in minutes and anyone can access medication information via the Web in seconds. As a result, there are entities out there that want to commoditize our industry. They want to reduce the value of the patient-pharmacist relationship to the mere tactical part of the job — dispensing pills.”
That thinking is tied to the past, according to Wasson, and fails to recognize a fundamental shift in pharmacy.
“Our product used to be dispensing pills safely and efficiently, but today our product is that and much more.” he said. “Our product is an outcome — an improved health outcome — that only a face-to-face encounter with a community pharmacist can accomplish.”
He argued that, contrary to the naysayers, an expanded role for pharmacy — one that includes medication therapy management, immunizations, health screenings and more — would have a beneficial impact on health care delivery. Wasson went so far as to say, “If pharmacists and nurse practitioners are allowed to practice at the top of their profession, our community pharmacies can provide a high percentage of primary care services in the United States.”
NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson asserted that, if the vision is to be realized, members of the profession must stand together and be counted.
“Effectiveness in communicating pharmacy’s value reflects a resurgence across pharmacy — a rising up — a commitment to tell pharmacy’s story and to demand a response,” he noted. “We are done talking to ourselves within the pharmacy community. We are done preaching to the choir. We are reaching out to elected officials, to the media, to health care partners, to employers, to patients, to those who have a say and a stake in the way patients get their care.”
This time of testing for the profession comes amid economic hardship, political contentiousness and fundamental changes in health care delivery.
“Focus and tenacity are necessary in the face of massive instability in our country,” said Anderson. “We face a pivotal election. We will see many new members of Congress who need to be educated on the value of pharmacy, and on our crucial issues that impact their constituents and your patients. The future of health reform will be written with each passing day. And nationally, and in the states, decisions will be made against ever tighter budgets.”
The difficulties are magnified by the so-called fiscal cliff looming on the horizon. Without action by Congress and President Obama before January 1, the new year will see the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and mandatory spending reductions, which, according to Congressional Budget Office figures cited by Anderson, will equal $600 billion, or 4% of gross domestic product. Although cuts to Medicare spending are limited to 2%, they would total $123 billion over nine years. And despite being exempt from the “sequestration,” Medicaid spending is projected to fall $325 billion in that period.
“All of this — from the election to health care reform to the economy — creates the operating environment for pharmacy, and for every industry,” noted Anderson. “Even with factors beyond our control, success relies on true leadership. We can’t change the wind, but we must adjust our sails.”
Anderson and Wasson embodied an industry doing just that, one that’s confident in the course it’s charted.
“Our future has never been brighter and our opportunity has never been greater to advance this great profession and the role we all know community pharmacy can play,” Wasson stated. “Will Rogers may have said it best: ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’ The good thing is, no one in this industry is just sitting there.”