It only makes sense that pharmacies and pharmacists would be playing an increasingly important role in our healthcare system. One basic reason is proximity. More than 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy. Even in less-populated rural areas, a drugstore is normally close by. That’s not always the case with hospitals and clinics that provide comprehensive health services.
So, it’s very positive that we’re seeing an evolution of the role of the pharmacist in the nation’s healthcare system. More often than not, today’s pharmacy is more than just a place to pick up a bottle of pills. Chains like Walgreens, CVS and Wal-Mart, as well as independent community pharmacies, are increasingly offering wellness programs, health screenings, immunizations and disease management services. Many provide in-store health clinics. Pharmacies are transforming themselves into multi-purpose health centers.
This significant change is being empowered, in large part, by information technology. Interoperable data networks began improving the pharmacy component of the healthcare continuum through e-prescribing. Roughly 95 percent of the nation’s pharmacies are linked to the Surescripts interoperable network. This makes it possible for the rapidly rising number of physicians using e-prescribing technology to communicate digitally with pharmacists, improving both patient safety and medication adherence. Reduced drug-related medical errors and greater prescription adherence are also significantly reducing health system costs.
But we’ve only begun to tap into the potential of digital networking. As pharmacists begin offering more healthcare services, particularly through in-store clinics that can conduct physical examinations and offer routine immunizations, it becomes increasingly important to link those pharmacies with patients’ primary healthcare providers. This two-way electronic street over which patient information can flow enables the best possible care to be delivered wherever the patient happens to be – in the pharmacy, in the hospital, or in the physician’s examination room.
A research paper published by the consulting firm Booz and Company, written by the company’s global healthcare experts, noted that “pharmacies are uniquely positioned to help meet the top two goals of reform: providing convenient, expanded access to medical care and controlling costs.”
This can only happen effectively if the pharmacy is linked electronically to the other players in the healthcare continuum. With that data linkage, the options for quality healthcare available to American patients and healthcare consumers are dramatically and beneficially expanded.