Raising the professional practice bar, one federal health campaign at a time

Pharmacists got another opportunity this month to show their skills and help ease the healthcare system's growing financial crisis and resource shortage. Will it move the needle on true health reform and the expanding pharmacy practice model?

On Sept. 5, the independent pharmacy community got word that its chief advocacy group, the National Community Pharmacists Association, will take part in a major new preventive care program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pharmacy-focused campaign, called "Team Up. Pressure Down." enlists community pharmacists in a program to help hypertensive patients more effectively manage and control their high blood pressure.

The campaign, part of the Department of Health and Human Services' Million Hearts initiative co-led by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is aimed at preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The feds are supporting pharmacists who participate and counsel hypertensive Americans with patient education materials and other resources.

It's no secret that cash-strapped public and private health plan payers are increasingly looking to chain and independent pharmacies and retail-based clinics to fill the gap in cost-effective, accessible community-based health care. Jeff Kang, SVP health-and-wellness services and solutions for Walgreens, argues that pharmacists are the nation's most underutilized health resource. But as isuch nfluential health stakeholders as the HHS and the CDC more heavily rely on the contributions those pharmacists can make to a health system in dire need of new, cost-saving solutions and improved patient access to health resources, the longstanding gap between pharmacy and other healthcare entities in this country is finally beginning to close.

The CDC's "Team Up" alliance is one program bridging that gap, but there are plenty of others. The federal government's growing recognition of the contributions that pharmacists and retail clinicians can bring to a reforming U.S. healthcare system got another big boost last month when HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited a CVS/pharmacy and MinuteClinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Sebelius was there to highlight new federal benefits and options for Medicare beneficiaries, including a free annual wellness visit and a wide variety of preventive tests and screenings, most at no cost to patients.

"CVS Caremark and our other pharmacy partners are helping its customers make informed healthcare decisions," Sebelius said. "These partnerships will help people with Medicare learn more about new preventive services, such as mammograms, and the new annual wellness visit that are available at no charge for everyone with Medicare."

The nation's leading health official toured the store and clinic, met with CVS leaders and patients, and even had her blood pressure checked by MinuteClinic staff.

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