Pharmacists continue to show their value to healthcare system

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT The evidence keeps piling up.

(THE NEWS: Pharmacist-patient relationships improve health, lower costs of care, UNC-Kerr study reveals. For the full story, click here)

Community pharmacy has demonstrated, over and over, and with remarkable consistency, that retail pharmacists bring real value to the healthcare system.

Aslew of pilot programs built around specific patient populations and specific disease states have shown that pharmacists, working in collaboration with local physicians and with the support of forward-thinking health-plan payers, can influence patient behavior, improve medication adherence and health outcomes, and save those payers money.

Given those findings, it’s high time the managed care industry – and the public and private health plan sponsors that pay the bills –– recognized that fact and adapted the nation’s cash-strapped, frayed healthcare system to reflect a new and more cost-efficient paradigm. The shift would align perfectly with the effort already underway by the White House and by many health-plan stakeholders to scrap the broken, fee-for-service payment model that still dominates the U.S. healthcare system –– a system that has driven healthcare costs to unsustainable levels –– and to adopt a new and more sensible payment model, based on evidence that a treatment plan is actually helping the patient.

Collaborative care, pharmacist interventions and payer-sponsored MTM services fit perfectly with that new model.

Projects demonstrating the health and cost-saving value of pharmacist interventions date back at least a decade, to the inception of the groundbreaking and still-active Asheville Project. The latest comes from Kerr Drug –– North Carolina’s scrappy, 90-store clinical pharmacy and retail health innovator –– and its project partner, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s an ideal match: both the drug chain and the school have had a close working partnership since Kerr opened its first patient-care center at its drug store in Chapel Hill more than a decade ago.

The results of the study, titled “Retrospective analysis of community pharmacists’ recommendations in the North Carolina Medicaid medication therapy management program,” were published in the May/June 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. What it showed was that Kerr pharmacists saved the state’s Medicaid program nearly $10,000 by engaging a group of just 88 Medicaid beneficiaries in MTM and tracking their prescription utilization and progress.

Just think what the federal government –– not to mention employers and other health-plan sponsors –– could save by expanding such programs to millions of patients. Let’s hope someone in the payer community is paying attention.

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