Caregivers Can Lean on Pharmacists Who Are Taking on Expanding Role in Patient Care

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Caregivers continue to face increased responsibilities and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic and knowing where to turn for help is not easy. A recent study shows that pharmacists will have an expanded role in patient care, and caregivers will want to take note of how they can tap into pharmacists’ expertise, which is often an underutilized resource.

Together, our organizations, Express Scripts® Pharmacy and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, partnered on new research to more deeply understand the expanding role of pharmacists in transforming patient care in the decade ahead. Between November and December 2021, we surveyed more than 3,000 patients, 1,000 pharmacists, and 500 providers (including physicians and nurse practitioners). The resulting Prescription of Trust report is the largest and most comprehensive research study ever conducted on this topic.

Our survey found that pharmacists currently spend about 50% of their time dispensing and filling medications, but that percentage is expected to decrease over the next decade. More than 80% of pharmacists agree they will see increased patient counseling responsibilities, take on an increased role in preventive care measures, and be more integrated in care management teams. We recognize this expansion of duties cannot happen fast enough, as the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shortage of physicians and nurses available to serve patients.

The best part about the findings from our research is that patients and health care providers truly trust pharmacists to play a greater role in providing care. In fact, our research found that 72% of doctors and nurse practitioners already consider pharmacists to be part of the patient care team.In addition, nearly 80% of patients said they see pharmacists as an integral part of their health care team.

So, what should caregivers know about pharmacists, and how should they engage with them to make the most of their expertise?Caregivers should keep in mind that pharmacists do much more than dispense medications. Our research found pharmacists in ambulatory clinics, health systems (hospitals), and home delivery pharmacies often serve as specialists, advising patients with specific diseases or interacting with a larger health team to help manage complex patient care.

Pharmacists can help ease a caregiver’s stress by addressing medication issues including polypharmacy and adherence, as well as condition issues. Additional Express Scripts Pharmacy research shows there’s a link to better health outcomes when pharmacists get involved with patient counseling and chronic disease management

For example, patients with diabetes often need continuing care to help manage their condition. Caregivers can reach out to their pharmacist for medication consults but also for information about disease management and preventive care.

Similarly, pharmacists can assist with many other conditions, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. As part of their expanding role, pharmacists can perform blood pressure and cholesterol screenings that allow them to make recommendations for potential future treatment. The more caregivers can partner with pharmacists to prevent emergency room trips, hospitalizations, or the advancement of a chronic disease by supporting adherence, the better we can affect a patient’s health outcomes.

Caregivers may also want to consider the benefits of telepharmacy services (via phone or video.) With the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth skyrocketed, but the use of telepharmacy has not been as quickly adopted. However, our study showed that nearly half (49.7%) of patients would find it extremely or very helpful to have routine testing and medical visits done from home. Telepharmacy is an underutilized resource for people to connect with a pharmacist anytime, anywhere. At many home delivery pharmacies, such as Express Scripts Pharmacy, their members can access pharmacists by phone 24/7.

Lastly, caregivers should keep in mind that most pharmacists chose their profession because of their desire to take care of patients, and the Prescription of Trust shows they are embracing their growing responsibilities with 70.1% saying they are excited about the evolving role of the pharmacist.

To learn more about The Prescription of Trust report, as well as how caregivers can make the most of patient care provided by pharmacists, please follow this link: www.express-scripts.com/futureofcare.

Susan Peppers, RPh, Chief Pharmacist, Express Scripts® Pharmacy, is dedicated to quality and patient safety with responsibility for Pharmacy Practice, Patient Consultation, and Clinical Programs.

John McHugh, MBA, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. His research focuses on health care organizations and how they operate and respond to changing incentives.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author, not necessarily those of the publication.

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