WAG VP talks to Chicago Tribune about changing role of pharmacist

Complementary roles part of evolving care model

CHICAGO — New federal and state regulations are expanding the role of the pharmacist, noted Richard Ashworth, Walgreens VP pharmacy services, during a live “Health Chat” hosted by Chicago Tribune reporter Bruce Japsen on Thursday afternoon. And that’s of benefit to patients at large, especially as “community pharmacy is located in the local communities and [is] a natural extension of the healthcare system,” Ashworth wrote.

Ashworth and Jaspen discussed the expanding role of the pharmacist and other retail healthcare professionals, such as the nurse practitioner, in today’s consumer medical care model over the hour-long Web presentation. “Coordinating care is an important aspect of the future of the healthcare system,” Ashworth noted, addressing a question on how pharmacists and NPs can coordinate care to optimize patient outcomes. “We are able to connect with physicians and pharmacies in a manner that ensures patient care and positive outcomes,” he said.

Further, the roles of the pharmacist and nurse practitioner complement one another. “The NP and [physician assistants] provide diagnosis and treatment regimens, where the pharmacists provide medications and counseling,” Ashworth noted. “The potential area for overlap would be around wellness and prevention activities — I view these as complementary and ensuring appropriate access to the patient population.”

One popular extension of the pharmacist’s role in healthcare delivery today is immunizations, such as the flu shot. But the full range of services a pharmacist can offer go well beyond that, Ashworth suggested. “I think about areas that are natural extensions of what a pharmacist does today,” he wrote. “Immunizations, health screenings, disease state management and monitoring, medication therapy management, health education, wellness activities/coaching, as well as other ancillary services, like bone density scans and light laboratory services.”

Another important profession developing within the retail pharmacy setting is the pharmacy technician, Ashworth said, responding to a question on the future role of pharmacy technicians. “Pharmacy technicians are one of the most important folks in our community pharmacies today,” he wrote. “Their abilities and empathy toward our patients, not to mention the complexities around billing and payments, are vital for the patient experience."

An archive of the chat session can be found here.

Ashworth joined Walgreens in 1992 as a service clerk and rose through the ranks of store management before becoming a pharmacy manager in 1999. By 2003, he was a store manager and was promoted to district manager in 2005. In 2007, he became VP benefit management services for Walgreens Health Services. He earned his pharmacy degree from Nova Southeastern University in 1999, and his MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2004.

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