Highly Trained, Under-Utilized: Advocating for a Shift in Pharmacy Care

OmniSYS partnered with Drug Store News to host a webinar that examined the benefits of pharmacy teams expanding their clinical offerings.


Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation illustrates how significant the gap in healthcare access is in America. More than 8,000 communities nationwide are medically underserved – representing nearly 100,000,000 people and roughly 30% of the population.

These staggering statistics are the glue that brought pharmacy experts together for the timely panel discussion, Healthcare Equity and Access Demands Pharmacists as Providers.

Dr. David Pope, chief pharmacy officer at OmniSYS, XiFin Pharmacy Solutions, led the conversation. The following pharmacy leaders joined Pope to discuss the growing need to transform the role pharmacists play in supporting community health:

  • Dr. Marc Watkins, Chief Medical Officer at Kroger Health
  • Dr. Ilisa Bernstein, Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Practice and Government Affairs at the American Pharmacists Association
  • Dr. Kyu Rhee, former CMO of CVS, Health and Human Services and IBM, and the new CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers
  • Dr. Kevin Ban, Chief Medical Officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance

Heroes in a Time of Need

Pharmacy teams have been especially instrumental in the fight against COVID-19. After administering more than 300 million vaccines during the pandemic, one thing became abundantly clear: the degree of access to pharmacies proved essential to maintaining healthy communities.

“Many of the traditional healthcare locations may have been shuttered during the pandemic as they searched to figure out ways to take care of patients safely,” Dr. Watkins said. “But many of the community-based pharmacists, retail-based pharmacists remained open… being frontline, being available, and being accessible when Americans needed it the most.”

Dr. Bernstein noted that legislative backing and pharmacists’ competencies combined to demonstrate how impactful pharmacy services could and should be.

“With the significant boost of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act… the federal government was able to unleash pharmacy teams to test, treat, and immunize,” Dr. Bernstein said. “Pharmacists are essential frontline providers [who care for] communities across the country. Pharmacists are key members of the healthcare team, and pharmacists are trained as medication experts, and we can’t let that expertise sit on the shelf.”

Realizing the Value of Pharmacy Teams

The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts the United States will have a shortage from 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by the year 2033. The anticipated decrease in doctors is one of the most relevant points to consider when advocating for expanding pharmacy care.

“Simply put, pharmacists deliver high-quality healthcare, and they are an essential part of the healthcare team. We all want a high-quality healthcare system, [and] that system needs to be safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered,” Dr. Rhee said. “Pharmacies and pharmacists have delivered high-quality care during the pandemic and beyond. We need to focus on health inequities and how can we address leveraging the talent, the skills, [and] the expertise of all parts of the healthcare team – including the pharmacist.”

Dr. Ban added that tapping into the value of pharmacy teams requires both a shift in how people think about the role of pharmacists and intentional governing.

“We need to change how we think about resources. We have resources – pharmacists. They are highly trained, trusted, and immediately available, except they’re spending most of their time counting by 5s,” Dr. Ban said. “We need to change that. It comes back to regulatory support, reimbursement, and urgency. We need to solve problems in new ways.”

A Prime Time for Action

Two bills were introduced to Congress that could potentially codify certain pharmacy services. Those bills are the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act and the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act.

However, Dr. Bernstein said pharmacists should also do their due diligence if they want to push for real change in pharmacies nationwide.

“All pharmacists should be advocates for themselves, for the profession, and be informed. Join your state pharmacy association, APhA, or another national association. That’s how you can stay informed if you’re a pharmacist,” she said. “Tell your story. Contact your legislator. Send letters. Invite your legislator to your place of business so they can see firsthand pharmacy teams in action and how you help your patients.”

Pharmacists can immediately get involved by participating in the Future of Pharmacy Care Coalition’s letter-writing campaign to urge Congress to cosponsor H.R. 1770 / S. 2477 legislation.

Healthcare Equity and Access Demands Pharmacists as Providers

The push for pharmacy teams to play a bigger role in supporting community health is only growing. The panelists also discussed what the future of pharmacy care could look like, how expanding pharmacy services could benefit the broader community, and potential ways pharmacists could overcome barriers that stand in the way of providing more patient care.

Click the button below to see the entire discussion.

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