Research-based findings supporting retail pharmacy’s capacity to improve the lives of patients and limit overall health care expenditures are finally beginning to attain critical mass.
The latest bit of good news for the industry, which for far too long relied on anecdotal evidence instead of quantitative data to assert its rightful place in health care, is an article in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs. “Why Pharmacists Belong in the Medical Home” argues that members of the profession should be an integral part of the health care team.
“Pharmacists can play important roles in optimizing therapeutic outcomes and promoting safe, cost-effective medication use for patients in medical homes,” write the authors — Marie Smith of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy; David Bates, division chief of general medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Thomas Bodenheimer of the University of California at San Francisco; and Paul Cleary of Yale University’s School of Public Health.
Citing specific studies that demonstrate the value of pharmacist interventions in patient care, the article calls for future medical home demonstration projects to involve members of the profession, and to develop and implement adequate reimbursement models for such activities as medication therapy management.
The piece comes on the heels of another article, “Thinking Outside the Pillbox: Medication Adherence as a Priority for Health Care Reform,” with positive implications for community pharmacy. In the piece, which appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine last month, Harvard University economist David Cutler and Wendy Everett, president of the New England Healthcare Institute, assert that erratic compliance with drug treatment regimens results in hundreds of billions of dollars a year in health care costs. They put the figure for hospitalization alone at more than $100 billion.
With their unmatched knowledge of pharmaceuticals and how they affect the body, their focus on patient interaction and their presence in the community, retail pharmacists are ideally positioned to help people who fail to take medications as directed, a group that data cited by Cutler and Everett indicate may include as many as 50% of all patients.
The researchers’ work comes at an opportune time for pharmacy. With the health care system entering a period of fundamental change, policy makers and payers in the private sector are increasingly attuned to what works. Like other providers, community pharmacy will have to prove its worth.
That’s a challenge that those directly involved in the sector are finally taking seriously. The launch this month of a series of demonstration projects by the Pharmacy Quality Alliance is reassuring proof. Backed by a $500,000 grant from Pfizer Inc., the research will explore the role of pharmacists in enhancing medication use to manage such chronic diseases as asthma and diabetes, as well as ensuring safe and effective prescription drug utilization by senior citizens.
The initiative will add to the growing body of evidence that highlights pharmacy’s salutary impact on health care.