Pharmacists, retail clinicians move to front lines of health care

Education, vaccinations, screenings — more services at pharmacy level increase healthcare accessibility, affordability

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — The idea of pharmacists as the most accessible healthcare professionals isn't just some hokey marketing gimmick: It's a readily observable fact, and one that will become increasingly important as retail pharmacies and retail clinics play a greater role on the front lines of care.

(THE NEWS: HHS partners with drug store chains to underscore Medicare benefits to seniors. For the full story, click here.)

Pharmacists' and retail clinicians' accessibility is helping make the pharmacy a key source of health-and-wellness education, allowing customers to find ways to take better care of themselves and save money. It also makes efforts by such health authorities as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to communicate with the public faster and more effective.

Everything from education to vaccinations to health screenings are helping to shift many of the services traditionally found in doctors' offices — and requiring an appointment as a result — to the retail level and turning them into just another thing to get at the drug store on the way home from work. That, in turn, is helping to increase the accessibility and affordability of preventive care, an essential component to building a healthier society, and taking a lot of the burden off physicians.

The ability of pharmacists to help seniors find savings in the "doughnut hole" coverage gap — a quirk in the Medicare prescription drug program in which patients become responsible for the entire cost of prescription drug therapies after spending reaches a certain level until they reach a "catastrophic coverage" threshold — is especially important. According to a study earlier this year, beneficiaries in the coverage gap were 57% more likely to discontinue cardiovascular medications than those with consistent drug coverage.

A major shift is under way in the U.S. healthcare system, one in which such basic services as screenings and vaccinations are becoming cheaper and more available at places like retail clinics and retail pharmacies. Given concerns over costs and accessibility, not to mention disease epidemics like pertussis and Type 2 diabetes, that's an advantage for everyone.

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