by Marc Sweeney, R.Ph., Pharm.D.
Dean, Cedarville University School of Pharmacy
Is the future of pharmacy really in jeopardy? Is automation going to replace the pharmacist’s role? Is reimbursement for dispensing causing the elimination of the profession? Some traditional-minded individuals seem to be fostering a bleak view of the profession’s path. Just like presidential pre-election polls, sometimes snippets of information can cause individuals to quickly fall into a “group think.” In a Facebook culture of reading headlines, forming opinions, and moving on, we may be drawing incorrect conclusions without a deeper dive into the question at hand: Will pharmacists be needed in the future?
According to a recent article published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, physician burnout is high and decreases patient care and outcomes. The authors’ findings highlighted that by embedding a pharmacist into a physician practice, the following improvements occur:
- Decreased primary care provider workload
- Decreased primary care provider mental exhaustion
- Improved professional development and learning
- Increased primary care provider access by patients
- Achievement of patient quality measures
Pharmacists now complete a four-year graduate professional program to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree and thus, they are trained in key areas of patient assessment, motivational interviewing, patient care, and disease management. Unlike all other health professionals, pharmacists receive more training in areas of medication utilization and management. Areas of medication focus are pharmacology, drug-related genetics, research methodology, medication therapy, and comprehensive medication management. Given the extensive training, physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners are finding significant value in collaborating with pharmacists.
A New Kind of Pharmacist
Many of my colleagues have been providing patient care in clinics, physician offices, and private practice settings … and not dispensing medications. They are providing consultative and care services. With expanding opportunities to bill for services, pharmacists have been moving into new paradigms of practice over the last 20 years. Similar to the optometrists years ago, who developed practices of patient care and not depending upon the sale of glasses and contact lenses, pharmacists are in a similar transition. Pharmacists are moving their services toward improving care and reducing costs. And if they happen to sell a medication, then so be it, but if not, they are paid for their value. I recently met with the owner of several clinics and he needed to integrate pharmacists expertise into their practice. I helped him create business model, and now pharmacists services will be included in their care services. I believe that if the value of pharmacists is embraced by primary care providers across the U.S., we are not even close to having enough pharmacists to fill that need.
Filling the Need
The Cedarville University School of Pharmacy is training future pharmacists who will be ready to fill those needs in healthcare. Cedarville offers a Doctor of Pharmacy degree that is collaborative, comprehensive, and patient-centered. And, with a distinctly biblical foundation, the Pharm.D. at Cedarville is equipping its graduates to serve their patients with Christlike compassion.