Preventive care is close to my heart. My father died from leukemia when I was 26 years old, and, like many, he only believed in seeing a healthcare provider when he was sick. An annual wellness exam and a simple blood test may have caught his cancer earlier and extended his life. Something so simple, yet many don’t take the time to do.
I think about my dad a lot in my career as a healthcare professional. When I was a pharmacist working at a community drug store, I was doing much more than dispensing prescriptions and giving advice on over-the-counter products. I was on the front lines helping people better manage their health and access critical health services.
At a drug store in Cleveland, I saw up close all the barriers that people have in getting routine care. I was a familiar face in the community and wore a white lab coat. The drug store was convenient. Many of my customers would walk to my store. In that community, my store was also a primary source of groceries, and I saw customers at least once a week.
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There is no question that poverty, disadvantage, discrimination and unequal access produce poor health. We’ve come up with an academic-sounding term to describe these barriers: social determinants of health. And there has been a lot of research that shows they exacerbate the disparities in health outcomes we see across race or ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, sexual identity and geography.
The idea of making blood testing more convenient and accessible inspired me to join Babson Diagnostics. We hold our clinical studies in retail pharmacies, so I get a chance to talk to customers. I hear many of the same frustrations I heard when I worked behind the counter. At a study in Philadelphia, one customer told me they had to take several buses to reach the nearest blood-testing lab, a 50-minute trip one way. Another told me she once waited hours for a blood test at a local hospital. We can do better. We must do better, especially in socially vulnerable areas. Where do we start? I have a few ideas:
Better health outcomes start with meeting patients where they are.
Access to health care impacts a person’s overall physical, social and mental health status and quality of life. As we return to many of the activities and societal norms we enjoyed pre-pandemic, we can’t take for granted the lessons learned about the importance of being patient-centered during the past two years. Retail pharmacies were on the front lines of beating the COVID-19 pandemic by offering testing and vaccines, and they are ready and uniquely positioned to play a more integrated role in our healthcare system. According to ResearchGate, there are more than 67,000 community pharmacies in the United States, and most Americans live within 5 miles of one, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. A recent study by APhA Pharmacy Today also found that Medicare beneficiaries visited community pharmacies about twice as frequently as they visited primary care offices.
The future lies in preventive care that people actually use.
Diagnostic tests are the cornerstone of preventive care. Seventy percent of medical decisions depend on lab testing results, yet our research shows that more than 1-in-5 adults (21%) do not receive routine blood work and routine primary care visits. Accurate, quality blood testing offers numerous health benefits. They help identify developing health problems, guide timely clinical care, as well as help patients and their providers make more informed decisions about diet, lifestyle and exercise. Regular blood testing also is critical in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. If we are going to address these health disparities and achieve optimal health for all Americans, we have to look at cost-effective, proven strategies. The power of prevention is centered on connecting people to the right health services and
an integrated team of health professionals.