The World Speaks: What if?
I’ve always liked the George Bernard Shaw quote that Ted Kennedy read at his brother Bobby’s funeral: “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that could be and ask, ‘Why not?’”
When we look at the state of pharmacy in the United States today, we see enormous, amazing potential. Pharmacists work in more locations than ever before. Especially in population centers, most residents are only a short ride from a pharmacy. Because we are closer to more people, we are in a better position to truly help and support them.
And that help can easily extend beyond safeguarding their health via conscientious filling of prescriptions. We are trained and capable of doing so much more.
As the political healthcare debate rages on, we’ve learned that Americans are far from the healthiest people on the planet. And many of the “first-world” problems that cause illness and compromise our quality of life are problems pharmacists can help solve. We are now embedded in more numerous communities. Just as law enforcement is adopting “community policing,” we can approach our work as community pharmacists.
Obesity is perhaps our most dangerous health problem. It has been wonderful to see fresh, healthy food featured in some Walgreens stores located in so-called “food deserts,” where grocery stores are less accessible. In that same vein, pharmacists can counsel patients, especially diabetics, about the benefits of healthy eating and the ease of forming better dietary habits. Pharmacists also could create partnerships with local gyms and fitness centers, and even organize lunchtime walking groups. These activities cost little or nothing, and can save lives.
Pharmacists can ensure patients understand their conditions, the role their medications play, and their own responsibilities to get and stay healthy. When people receive non-accusatory information and advice from a medical professional right in their own neighborhood, at no extra cost, they just might think about it. Plus, they should be encouraged to ask questions and report progress, which we should applaud.
Especially with pharmaceutical advertising on television, many are confused about cancer treatments. This provides an excellent opportunity for pharmacists to help demystify options for patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Of course, I don’t mean recommending any course of treatment or medication. Just answering appropriate questions, explaining how different therapies work, and suggesting questions for the primary healthcare provider can help someone feel more confident and less alone.
All of these suggestions sound great, but what about the hard realities?
Yes, we are in many more locations and in many more communities, but pharmacists also are under more pressure than ever to churn out more prescriptions at faster rates and higher volumes. It is a source of great pain to individuals and the profession that error numbers are growing due to inadequate staffing and pressure to increase the numbers of prescriptions filled at each shift.
My colleague and friend, Dan Hussar, writes frequently about the need for pharmacists to band together to improve both working conditions and patient outcomes. I wholeheartedly endorse that idea.
I also believe, from my many years in both pharmacy and public health, that the personal attitudes we bring to work each day are a strong factor in how we serve our customers. If we see ourselves as healthcare providers, we will function that way. When we believe we can positively affect changes for our patients and our communities, we will do so. When we understand how easily we can be health advocates, in small and large ways, that’s what we will become.
I’ll keep on fighting the good fight, and I hope you’ll join me. Together we can make meaningful differences every day.
Fred Mayer, CEO of Pharmacists Planning Services.
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