Appreciating pharmacy’s advancement

One of the greatest frustrations that one can encounter is the sense of not being heard or understood. So, understandably, pharmacy was extremely frustrated in past years.

For a long time, pharmacy was performing a vital role in patient care, but without a corresponding level of appreciation from the government and from the healthcare community.

When I started as president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores in 2007, I often heard from NACDS members and allies that the profession and the industry had to stop “talking to itself” and “preaching to the choir,” and had to be more proactive in communicating pharmacy’s value externally.

Studies validated that point. In 2007, NACDS conducted opinion research among policy-makers, opinion leaders and other influential audiences. It showed that respondents really liked their pharmacies, but had not thought much about pharmacies as part of healthcare delivery. Unfortunately, the treatment — or mistreatment — of pharmacy in public policy reflected that sentiment.

A lot has happened since then. Some of it has flowed from external forces, and much of it has flowed from pharmacy’s proactive stance. Here are just a few examples:

  • Any discussion of pharmacy advancement starts with pharmacies themselves. NACDS members have transformed their stores into healthcare destinations and expanded the services they offer;
  • Pharmacies proved their accessibility, capacity and capability — particularly in the minds of public health officials — when they emerged as strategic vaccination partners in the face of influenza outbreaks, including H1N1;
  • The healthcare reform debate created a venue for pharmacy to make its pitch for the value that it provides. In addition, it became clear that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act required assistance from pharmacies, who are considered by patients to be "go-to” information sources;
  • NACDS launched and sustained its communications and advocacy theme: “Pharmacies. The face of neighborhood healthcare”;
  • The pipeline of research has yielded proof of what pharmacy has been saying for years. Research regarding benefits of medication adherence — and pharmacy’s ability to foster it — is appearing consistently in peer-reviewed journals, and in policy statements of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Congressional Budget Office;
  • The mainstream media have increased their reporting of new pharmacy services, particularly in the face of mounting healthcare access challenges; and
  • Pharmacies have become more engaged in grassroots advocacy. NACDS members hosted 118 pharmacy tours and other events for members of Congress in 2013, and have already hosted 103 events in 2014.

We’ve come a long way. Legislation was introduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives to designate pharmacists as healthcare providers under Medicare Part B, to assist underserved communities. The legislation would enable pharmacists to provide vaccinations, diabetes screenings and self-management education, cardiovascular screenings and more to Medicare patients — as allowed by state laws. An online survey in July of likely voters who are informed and engaged when it comes to current events found that 79% of respondents favor the legislation. The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by NACDS, also found bipartisan support with 85% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans backing it. This reflects the bill’s current co-sponsorship, with 50 Democrats and 44 Republicans cosponsoring it in the House.

Looking back over how far we have come, one could argue that it is time for pharmacy to focus on internal communications again. However, instead of “preaching to the choir,” the message would be one of thanks — for the industry’s great work that has elevated pharmacy’s status and appreciation.

Much work lies ahead to achieve pharmacy’s potential. However, doing that work will be much more rewarding than enduring past frustrations. It also will be much more productive for the patients whom this amazing industry serves.

Steve Anderson, IOM, CAE, is president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

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