Watkins added that even prior to 20 years ago, the scope of the skillset of pharmacists was known. “Through the pandemic what we saw that was the most impactful, was the degrees of access Americans had to pharmacists. Many of the traditional healthcare locations may have been shuttered during the pandemic. Many of the community based and retail pharmacies remained open. They were frontline, being available and accessible when Americans needed them the most. We can’t roll back accessibility. Accessibility is the largest determinant of health,” he said.
Pope went on to ask Watkins and Ban, how do you as a physician, see the pharmacist role post COVID?
Watkins noted that as patients become more familiar with pharmacists, who have been the most accessible healthcare providers worldwide and in the United States, “As we saw during the pandemic, they’ve established meaningful relationships with patients. It establishes trust and allows patients and pharmacists to develop this framework to discuss their health in a meaningful way.”
Watkins urged that pharmacists need to continue to practice at the top of their license, engage in active advocacy for their profession and be engaged. “As we move away from the fee for service model and look to value based care models, we’ll see the value of the pharmacist will remain. That creates opportunity for them to be engaged, especially post COVID and how can they impact the lives of their patients directly through their ability to deploy interventions, counseling and be involved where states permit to have provider status so they can impact health at scale.”
Ban offered his views of the pharmacist’s role amid the pandemic, stating, “There were three things. First, we had regulatory support. We had reimbursement support. When you have those two things you can do a lot. The third element was urgency, around getting tested and vaccinated. We need to build on this now. We have urgency, now we have to look at what we did collectively to drive care to medically underserved areas and beyond and how can we take that farther,” he said.
Next, Bernstein addressed the topic of whether pharmacists are prepared for infectious disease and chronic disease care, pointing out that often pharmacists are dong residencies or post grad training to get additional expertise in different areas. “We need to unleash that ability, not just through experiences and opportunities, but proving the authority, the ability for pharmacists to practice at the top of their knowledge skills and license,” she said.
Pope also asked panelists what trends they’re seeing in their current landscape that are driving us toward an expanded role for pharmacists.
Ban said, “We are beginning to see that people are becoming shoppers even in health care. A lot of us have taken on high deductible insurance. Then there’s the physician shortage. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 8,000 communities are medically underserved from a primary care perspective. That represents about 100 million Americans, about 30% of the population. We need around 16,000-17,000 new providers and that won’t happen. We need to change how we think about resources. We have resources, pharmacists. It’s beginning to sound cliché. They are highly trained, trusted and immediately available except they’re spending most of their time counting by 5s. You go into a pharmacy and they seem too busy. We need to change that. We’re trying to wick away the work that doesn’t need to happen by pharmacists with things like centrally filling medications so they can provide high value services. It comes back to regulatory support and reimbursement and urgency. We need to solve problems in new ways.”
Next Rhee addressed the trends that he is seeing in the marketplace that are driving the role of pharmacists. “Simply put, pharmacists deliver high quality heath care and they are essential parts of the healthcare team,” Rhee said, adding, “That system needs to be safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient centered. I recognized that pharmacies and pharmacists have delivered high quality care during the pandemic and beyond. We often think from an inpatient and outpatient perspective that we saw how safe and essential it was for our health system. One of the urgency issues is health equity. We need to focus on health inequities. How can we address it to leverage the talent, skills and expertise of everyone on the healthcare team, including pharmacists?”
Bernstein took the discussion one step further, noting that patients are seeing that pharmacies are collocating clinics in sites. “You’re seeing how pharmacists are stepping into primary care opportunities, that there’s an integrated approach,” Bernstein said, adding, “Pharmacists are working closely in these collocated clinics and are being embedded in primacy care practices as well. The problem is reimbursement strategies and payment schemes are not supportive for paying pharmacists for services. We need to get over that barrier so pharmacists can provide more care,” she said, noting that as far as the legislative environment and its ability to support pharmacists as providers, there’s tremendous momentum on the federal and state level.