Way beyond counting pills

Chances are, you didn’t enroll in pharmacy school to count out pills behind a counter. As part of the next generation of clinically driven PharmDs, you’re probably looking for a lot more.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have very limited career goals, you entered your PharmD program in search of a fulfilling career as a patient-focused, highly trained health professional. Whether or not you’re already licensed, you see yourself as fully capable of helping patients manage their conditions and medication therapy, in full collaboration with physicians, nurses, hospital systems, clinicians — and perhaps even with wellness coaches and nutritionists — in an integrated, electronically connected web of care focused on improved patient outcomes and a healthier population.

All well and good. But will the fractured U.S. healthcare system really allow for that kind of elevated pharmacy practice model? Will today’s newly emerging PharmDs really be allowed to do more than dispense prescriptions and make sure Mrs. Jones understands she needs to take her antibiotics with meals, as important as those activities are? In a word, yes. Let me know if you disagree, but from where I sit, the elevation of pharmacy already is well under way.

The change is being driven by the utter necessity of cutting the nation’s astronomical healthcare bill. How? By shifting the whole focus of health care from simply treating massively expensive diseases to preventing those conditions in the first place, or catching them early enough to reduce their impact on patients’ lives and America’s strained healthcare budget. At the very least, it means helping patients more effectively manage their conditions through better diets, better lifestyle choices, exercise and adherence to their medication regimens.

It’s happening now, in a growing tide of collaborative care initiatives around the U.S. by health systems, employer-sponsored and publicly funded health plans, pharmacists and other providers.

In early February, another plank was added to this new, integrated community health platform. Insurance network giant UnitedHealth Group announced that Safeway had joined its Diabetes Prevention and Control Alliance, an initiative designed to help address the growing epidemic of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes [go to http://drugstorenews.com/article/diabetes-prevention-and-control-alliance-extended-safeway-stores-select-markets]. Safeway joins a growing cadre of retailers — including Albertsons, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie — whose pharmacies are participating in the huge prevention and disease management program, whereby pharmacists conduct blood-glucose, cholesterol and blood-pressure testing services for program participants and provide them with on-the-spot results.

That’s a lot more than counting pills.

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