If you think the only place pharmacists fill prescriptions is at your neighborhood CVS or Walgreens, think again. More and more pharmacists are popping up at doctors' offices and clinics, working side-by-side with physicians as they treat patients.
At the Goodrich Pharmacy in Anoka, Minn., pharmacists are happy to serve customers who happen to wander in, but the bulk of business is with a primary care clinic nearby, says Steve Simenson, president and managing partner of Goodrich, which operates five pharmacies around the Twin Cities.
The primary care clinic contracts with Goodrich pharmacists to visit patients there and to do follow-up work, including patient education and monitoring of chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma.
Goodrich pharmacists have access to clinic patients' electronic medical records, so they can view doctors' treatment goals, lab results and other information.
Like many states, Minnesota allows "collaborative practice agreements" between pharmacists and physicians that permit pharmacists to take over medication-related care for a patient as long as changes are communicated to the physician. "The future of independent pharmacists is in direct patient care," says Simenson.
When it comes to treatment with prescription medicines, there's plenty of room for improvement:
- Research shows that patients only follow prescribed drug regimens about half the time; that's about the same frequency with which doctors follow evidence-based treatment guidelines.
- Patients' not taking their medicines costs the health care system an estimated $290 billion annually.
- Patients can have trouble understanding the instructions accompanying their prescriptions because of jargon and tiny type.
- The Institute of Medicine estimated that preventable medication errors harm 1.5 million people every year.
Noting the cost and quality problems related to improper medication use, Anne Burns, vice president of professional affairs for the American Pharmacists Association, says, "Pharmacists have very specific training to address these problems. We often hear that pharmacists are the most underutilized professionals in the country."