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How the COVID-19 Pandemic Elevated Pharmacists’ Roles in Patient Care

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly shook the trust of patients and consumers. Misinformation and fake news about COVID-19 —from the virus itself to vaccines, has been swirling from the onset of the pandemic. This has led to an alarming increase in patient mistrust of care providers, and for COVID-19 specifically, an increase in vaccine hesitancy. However, there is one essential group of clinicians that can answer the call in earning back the trust among consumers: pharmacists.

Recently, I appeared in an episode of Pharmacy Podcast Network, hosted by Todd Eury, to discuss how pharmacists’ roles have evolved—from providing accessible clinical services to supporting wellness and population health initiatives. With 90% of Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy, pharmacists are taking a larger, more active role in consumer-driven healthcare and play a vital role in removing barriers to healthcare.

My conversation with Todd centered around three focal points:

1. Pharmacists are at the hub of healthcare.

While the perception may be that pharmacists are only responsible for filling prescriptions, the scope of their role in patient care is more extensive. They are a trusted and convenient source for clinical information. How many times have you visited your local pharmacy and asked the pharmacist a question about a medication or sought advice on how to treat an ailment? During the pandemic, pharmacists were, and remain, at the hub in combating COVID-19—from testing and administering vaccines to now alleviating the overburdened healthcare system providing COVID-19 treatment. This pandemic proves that pharmacists have a much larger seat at the table as vital frontline workers filling large healthcare gaps. Far beyond COVID-19, pharmacists manage many communicable diseases and chronic conditions, optimize medications, and provide many necessary public health services.

2. Federal/state legislation, payment for services, and technology must be leveraged to maximize pharmacists’ potential as caregivers.

Per my point above, pharmacists are trusted sources for clinical information. However, they cannot reach their full potential as caregivers in the continuum without the following support:

Federal/State Legislation. Historically, pharmacists’ potential as accepted providers has not been fully realized. Today, a tidal wave of change at the state level has begun to recognize pharmacists as health care providers, legally.  Federal actions as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic have furthermore expanded offering and authority of services by the entire pharmacy team, including technicians and pharmacy students. Pharmacy teams must continue this work, leveraging their education and skillsets, to continue to gain legislative wins supporting expanded authorization and to help combat the nation’s health crises.  

Payment for Services. Generally speaking, pharmacists are paid only for products dispensed. They’re often not reimbursed for the time spent providing clinical services, whether these are in-depth conversations regarding medications or answering health related questions. Our pharmacy practice models must continue to evolve. Pharmacists need to start documenting patient care provided, similar to other healthcare provider settings, and then seek reimbursement from medical insurances. In many states pharmacists are eligible to perform assessment and prescribing services and subsequently bill Medicaid and commercial insurances for services provided within their scope of practice. Advanced technology applications specifically built for community pharmacy providers would support a different financial model than simply dispensing medications.

Technology. For decades other providers, such as physicians and nurse practitioners, have had many solutions at their fingertips. Technology solutions and associated services are used as a standard to support credentialing and contracting with medical insurances, documentation in electronic health records, clinical decision making, medical claims submission, revenue cycle management, and much more. Pharmacists need these same technology solutions but designed with the unique practice model of community pharmacy in mind. This will ultimately pave a new model in community pharmacy resulting in overall improved patient care and outcomes.  

3. Pharmacists must be “all in” with their evolving role as caregivers.

Dispensing medication is no longer the core of what pharmacists do. They play a vital role in accessing patient care, particularly for the most vulnerable and underserved populations. The time is now for pharmacists to show their value and reinvent their profession as trusted caregivers, all the while increasing earning potential.

Click here to listen to my full podcast interview with the Pharmacy Podcast Network.

By Tara Pfund, PharmD, Product Manager, AssureCare

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