Canadian study further demonstrates pharmacists' role in improving patient care, cost

Study finds potential reduction in health costs of more than $1 billion over three years from expanding pharmacists' roles

Expanding pharmacists' role in Canada could reduce the burden of chronic illness on patients and save the country's healthcare system between C$1.4 billion and C$1.9 billion (US$1.34 billion to $1.83 billion) over the next three years, according to a new report released by Arthritis Consumer Experts, the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Canada's single-payer healthcare system is vastly different from that of the United States, not to mention differences between the two countries in terms of laws and regulations that govern pharmacy, but the lessons from the study apply equally to both.

The Canadian study is just the latest in years of research showing the benefits of expanding pharmacists' role in health care. Allowing them to do things like develop and manage patient care plans and renew prescriptions would reduce the work load of physicians and provide greater convenience for patients.

Of course, American pharmacists are no strangers to that level of collaboration with physicians. In many states, in addition to vaccinations against flu and shingles, they can vaccinate against diseases like hepatitis A and B through collaborative practice agreements with physicians.

But perhaps the most crucial role pharmacists play in reducing costs is by promoting medication adherence through services like medication therapy management. Last month, the American Pharmacists Association released a book that presents new ways of teaching the theory and practice of motivational interviewing for healthcare professionals, which has been shown to improve treatment adherence and outcomes, promote behavior change, improve patient satisfaction and increase retention rates in complex case management. According to an often-cited study by the New England Healthcare Institute, poor medication adherence costs the U.S. healthcare system about $290 billion per year.

Then there are services like retail clinics and health screenings. Sam's Club has administered millions of free screenings to customers at its pharmacies, and CVS announced Thursday the second half of its Project Health wellness campaign, whereby it plans to deliver more than $15 million in free health screenings to communities across the country by the end of the year.

As IMS Health VP industry relations Doug Long said in a presentation at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' Total Store Expo in Las Vegas, pharmacies are a crucial link in the cost-containment chain, but reducing healthcare costs will require collaboration between them, physicians, patients and payers. It seems the U.S.'s neighbor to the north gets the idea.

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