Seeing the real value of pharmacists and NPs

Beyond those in the health professions, forward-thinking healthcare advocates and pharmacists themselves, who in this country believes in the power of pharmacy to improve access to patient care, lower health costs and help Americans prevent or better manage diseases? Add the editors of the New York Times to the growing list of believers.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a lengthy editorial touting the obvious benefits that pharmacists, nurse practitioners and retail clinicians can bring to an overstretched healthcare system facing an acute shortage of primary care physicians. The article pointed out that the shortage will become even more critical once the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act expands health coverage to millions of currently uninsured patients.

“Expanding medical schools and residency programs could help in the long run,” the New York Times noted. “But a sensible solution to this crisis — particularly to address the short supply of primary care doctors — is to rely much more on nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, community members and even the patients themselves to do many of the routine tasks traditionally reserved for doctors.”

It’s the kind of long-overdue recognition from a nationally respected news source that retail pharmacy advocates like the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and Drug Store News have long sought. Even better, the editorial noted an opinion issued last year by the United States Public Health Service: that “pharmacists are ‘remarkably underutilized’ given their education, training and closeness to the community.”

The editorial in the nation’s premier “newspaper of record” signals the kind of sea change going on nationally in Americans’ perception of the pharmacy profession and its role in a smarter, more connected and more cost-effective health delivery system. But has the message truly filtered down into local communities across the United States? What about your community? Are local physicians’ practices, hospitals and patients themselves looking to the community pharmacist to help relieve the doctor shortage, cut health costs and improve access to care? Comment below to let us know.

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