Pharmacy Times: Here’s to our local heroes: America’s pharmacists

We owe it to our seniors to listen to their needs and ensure pharmacists have the support they need to continue to play a vital role in our communities as frontline providers of essential health care.

By: David Pope, PharmD, CDE and Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP

National Pharmacist Day is Jan. 12. A great way to start the New Year is to recognize America’s pharmacists for their many contributions. These unsung heroes work hard every day in thousands of pharmacies across the country, providing convenient quality care to millions of people, especially seniors.

Thanks to our neighborhood pharmacists, lives have been saved and public health goals have been achieved. According to the CDC, more than 305 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered by retail pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.1 This is nearly half of all COVID-19 vaccinations in the country.2 Many of these vaccines were given to the most vulnerable through the Program, including America’s seniors living in long-tern care facilities. In fact, more than 95% of those aged 60 and older have received at least 1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine.2 Without interventions by pharmacists, the number of seniors vaccinated would have been much lower and many more lives would have been tragically lost.

Filling healthcare gaps

Today, 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of at least 1 pharmacy.3 Patients visit their community pharmacist roughly twice as frequently as they visit primary care physicians, with those in rural areas visiting their pharmacist even more often.4 This convenient access to pharmacies is particularly important because nearly half of US counties already face shortages of primary care providers with just 1 doctor for every 1500 people.4

The United States is facing—and will continue to face—a shortage of primary care physicians that is projected to only get worse. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) expects that by 2032 there will be a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians, including up to 55,000 in primary care and 66,000 in other specialties.5 Filling these health care gaps with pharmacists, who are already embedded in the community as trusted sources of reliable quality care,6 is both necessary and urgent to ensure people have access to the services they need.

The most recent J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Pharmacy Study noted that pharmacists have become a critical link in the health care continuum, and pharmacies are taking on a more significant role as they continue to transform from the corner drug store to a multi-channel hub of health care services and digital tools. The study found that 83% of brick-and-mortar pharmacy customers indicated an interest in receiving health and wellness services at their pharmacy, up 3 percentage points from 2022. In 2021, JD Power reported 51% of Americans visited the pharmacy to get a health and wellness service, such as vaccines or routine screening.7

Other services, including smoking cessation, medication therapy management, and chronic care management for diseases such as diabetes, have also been successfully provided by pharmacists.

And in summer of 2022, the FDA recognized the important role pharmacists have played and continue to play in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic by authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid to treat eligible patients. The FDA noted that since Paxlovid must be taken within 5 days after symptoms begin, authorizing pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid could expand access to this timely treatment.8 This decision may have saved countless lives, especially among seniors: a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people 65 or older had a 73% lower chance of being hospitalized for COVID-19 and about a 79% lower chance of dying of the disease, compared to people in the same age group who did not take Paxlovid.9

Improving the health of seniors by supporting our local heroes

An opinion poll of seniors conducted in 2022 found that 80% wanted local pharmacies to provide access to vaccines, testing, and treatments for flu, strep, or future pandemic infections.10 And a more recent survey commissioned by Wolters Kluwer found that “58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step when faced with a non-emergency medical issue. 81% say they trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.”11

We owe it to our seniors to listen to their needs and ensure pharmacists have the support they need to continue to play a vital role in our communities as frontline providers of essential health care. They are true heroes, and we are very lucky to have them down the block and around the corner.

David Pope

David Pope

David Pope, PharmD, CDE, is Chief Pharmacy Officer at XiFin, driving the company’s innovation and product portfolio strategy for pharmacy. He is a nationally recognized expert in medical informatics and clinical services in the pharmacy space and has served as an advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as multiple Fortune 500 health-care-related organizations.

Kyu Rhee

Kyu Rhee

Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, is CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC); former chief medical officer, CVS Health, IBM and human resources and services administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

References

1. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. CDC. Updated August 18, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://archive.cdc.gov/www_cdc_gov/vaccines/covid-19/retail-pharmacy-program/index.html

 

2. COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States. CDC. Updated May 11, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations_vacc-total-admin-count-total

 

3. Berenbrok LA, Tang S, Gabriel N, et al. Access to community pharmacies: A nationwide geographic information systems cross-sectional analysis. JAPhA. 2022;62(6):1816-1822.e2. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2022.07.003

 

4. Berenbrok LA, Gabriel N, Coley K, et al. Evaluation of frequency of encounters with primary care physicians vs visits to community pharmacies among Medicare beneficiaries. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(7):e209132. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.9132

 

5. US Medical School Enrollment Surpasses Expansion Goal. News release. American Association of Medical Colleges. July 25, 2019. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://www.aamc.org/news/press-releases/us-medical-school-enrollment-surpasses-expansion-goal

 

6. Honesty/Ethics in Professions. Gallup. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx

 

7. Retail Pharmacy Customer Satisfaction Surges as Digital Engagement Keeps Rising, JD Power Finds. News release. JD Power. July 27, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2023-us-pharmacy-study

 

8. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Pharmacists to Prescribe Paxlovid with Certain Limitations. News release. FDA. July 6, 2022. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-pharmacists-prescribe-paxlovid-certain-limitations

 

9. Arbel R, Sagy YW, Hoshen M, Battat E, et al. Nirmatrelvir use and severe COVID-19 outcomes during the Omicron surge. New Engl J Med. 2022;387:790-798. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2204919

 

10. JZS-Patient Access to Pharmacy Care Survey Conducted July 12-July 13, 2022. John Zogby Strategies. August 2022. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://pharmacycare.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/future-of-pharmacy-care-summary-report-patient-access-to-pharmacy-survey.pdf

 

11. Wolter Kluwer’s Pharmacy Next survey shows 58% of Americans likely to first seek non-emergency healthcare at pharmacies. News release. Wolters Kluwer Health. May 17, 2023. Accessed January 11, 2024. https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/news/survey-shows-americans-seek-non-emergency-healthcare-at-pharmacies

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