The Role of Pharmacists as Health Providers

08.30.16
Papatya Tankut, R.Ph.

To tackle complicated health care issues such as chronic disease and medication adherence, patients need more attention and support from health care professionals than ever before. And given the growing shortage of primary care physicians, Americans will increasingly rely on extended care teams, including pharmacists, for their needs.

Our Vice President of Pharmacy Affairs, Papatya Tankut, gives perspective on the important role of pharmacists, and their contributions within the health care team, to help meet this growing demand for care.

Based on your experience, what role do you think pharmacists can and should play in a team-based approach to medical care, beyond filling prescriptions?

Many roles come to mind. Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals who provide a broad spectrum of services, including conducting health and wellness testing, managing chronic diseases, performing medication management, and administering immunizations. 

More specifically, medication is an integral part of the treatment of patients, and pharmacists play an important part in medication management and adherence. As medication experts within the broader health care team, they have the ability to identify potential barriers to medication adherence and can offer solutions to help encourage patients to stay adherent, which saves lives and significant costs to the health care system.[1] Pharmacists also educate about potential side effects and drug interactions and help identify potential gaps in care for those with complex medical conditions.

What else makes pharmacists unique within the health care team?

Because patients are already visiting retail pharmacies for everyday items, they are more likely to have regular interactions and a relationship with the pharmacist. This builds trust. In my experience, patients are more inclined to pick up the phone and call their pharmacist with questions.

In addition, they are likely to receive more counseling time from pharmacists compared with other health care professionals due to pharmacies’ relatively flexible hours. This combination of trust and accessibility makes pharmacists valuable public health resources uniquely positioned to drive positive behavioral changes and favorable patient outcomes – providers’ ultimate goal. 

What more can be done to maximize pharmacists’ role within the health care team?

Pharmacists are an integral contributor to the overall health care of patients, and recognizing and reimbursing pharmacists as providers will further advance the care they are able to provide. This is already occurring. In the fifteen states where Medicaid reimburses pharmacy services, they are reimbursing for care such as medication management, smoking cessation services, counseling, and administration of immunizations.[2] In addition, some private health insurance plans cover patient services provided by pharmacists.[3]

But, there’s opportunity to do more. For example, Medicare Part B currently covers the dispensing of prescription drugs but not additional patient services provided by a pharmacist. An effort to expand Medicare Part B coverage of pharmacist services, consistent with state scope of practice laws, can better integrate pharmacists into the clinical team. This can increase access to and quality of care, especially important for patients in underserved communities and those with complex medical needs.

[1] American Pharmacists Association. Celebrating Pharmacists: A Core Part of Your Health Care Team. October 2014. Accessed August 2016.
[2] Isasi F, Krofah E. The expanding role of pharmacists in a transformed health care system. National Governor’s Association website. January 13, 2015. Accessed August 2016.
[3] American Pharmacists Association. Washington state law: Pharmacists now providers in private health plans. May 12, 2015. Accessed August 2016.