What a year!
While it’s impossible to have a 2020 retrospective without talking about COVID-19, the real headline in pharmacy is not so much the pandemic itself, but how a public health crisis served as the catalyst for advancing the role of pharmacists as primary and preventative care providers.
In addition to the public health challenges related directly to a COVID (and there are many), people still needed access to basic healthcare services such as immunizations, diagnostic testing, and chronic disease management consulting.
If nothing else, COVID-19 accelerated a much-anticipated problem – what happens when there is an imbalance between demand and access to care. Consider for a moment, since the pandemic began:
- Primary care visits dropped by 21 percent
- 5 million fewer doses of vaccines for children were ordered between March and May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.
- 40 percent of adults have avoided access to care because they were concerned about catching COVID-19 in a healthcare facility.
And while the access to traditional care settings tightened, the need for healthcare did not. In fact, demand for immunizations and point-of-care testing skyrocketed, and it didn’t take long for the government to recognize what those of us in pharmacy already knew – pharmacy is the answer to providing Americans convenient access to affordable, quality care.
2020 saw regulatory changes that empowered pharmacists as providers at the national level for the first time ever. HHS granted all U.S. pharmacists provider status for COVID-19 testing and vaccines, as well as the ability to immunize children over age three. Furthermore, pharmacy technicians were authorized to administer vaccines as yet another means of meeting the growing demand for care. Pharmacists gained national recognition as frontline healthcare workers and cemented their status as a critical care providers in the healthcare system.
With phase one of COVID-19 vaccinations rolling out this week, thankfully the crisis will begin to wind down in the coming months. But as we look towards the future of healthcare in the U.S., issues around access to care are not going anywhere.
In less than 10 years, there will be a staggering 27 million new Medicare beneficiaries. And nearly half of them will have multiple chronic conditions. The next pervasive need for accessible care is just around the corner, and pharmacy is the answer here too.
And finally, we can’t wrap up a discussion on 2020 without addressing Amazon’s move into pharmacy. As community pharmacies are evolving into destinations for clinical care, the impact of Amazon’s entrance into the prescription dispensing business is not nearly as threatening as it would have been even just a few years ago. Pharmacists as trusted healthcare professionals are the true differentiation between the dispensing business model of yesteryear, and the future clinical services model of tomorrow.
As we wrap up 2020, I would argue that the future of pharmacy is bright. Happy holidays!
John G. King, CEO
John is the chief executive officer of OmniSYS. He focuses on driving innovation and delivering high-impact solutions that enable customers to grow their businesses profitably. He is passionate about the company’s mission to improve the health of healthcare. With over 25 years of sales and operational expertise in healthcare and information technology, John has devoted his career to advancing health through the creation and adoption of innovative solutions.