Image of pharmacist advising older adult patients; Credit: Getty Images

Pharmacists are on course to take on more central roles in healthcare, including chronic disease management in the adult patient population, according to a new survey conducted by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health in conjunction with Express Scripts Pharmacy.

The researchers queried more than 3,000 patients, 1,000 pharmacists and 500 medical providers about the expansion of the profession into patient care. Based on the results, expanded pharmacist involvement in patient care will fill in a gap created by a shrinking pool of physicians and nurses, they wrote.

A majority of the pharmacists surveyed said that they foresee a transition from transactional care to more direct patient care responsibilities, while other providers conveyed a high level of trust in the profession as collaborators, reported John McHugh, MBA, Ph.D., of Columbia, and colleagues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the providers who most frequently work with pharmacists reported the highest level of trust, they noted.

Many patients, meanwhile, already view their pharmacist as a trusted clinician, with 77% of patient respondents agreeing that the pharmacist is an integral member of the care team.

Medication management, care transition oversight

Data shows that pharmacist involvement in medication therapy management can improve outcomes and reduce costs, according to the authors. Pharmacists are uniquely equipped to handle medication reviews and polypharmacy, help prevent adverse drug events, increase medication adherence and decrease drug misuse, they wrote. They are also able to provide preventive clinical counseling around vaccination and screening, but their capabilities in these areas are underutilized, they added.

“Because patients often engage with a pharmacist more frequently than other care providers, pharmacists can aid in monitoring, behavior and lifestyle changes to improve outcomes and reduce health care costs,” they wrote.

The authors also foresee pharmacists reinforcing care continuity by helping to oversee transitions between providers and healthcare settings through discharge counseling and medication history overview, with a key goal of reducing readmissions.

Increased technological capabilities will support these evolving roles, they added. More than a third of pharmacists who use telepharmacy, for example, said it opens up more time for patient interaction. In addition, fully 62% of providers surveyed agreed that pharmacists will have access to patients’ electronic medical records in the near future, helping to further streamline care.

About half (53%) of pharmacist respondents said that they already feel qualified to take on many of these new tasks. But many acknowledged that the expanded responsibilities will require additional advanced training in subjects such as conducting longer-form direct-care patient visits and managing disease in the elderly population.

Pharmacists are embracing these new possibilities, with 70.1% saying they are excited about the evolving role of the pharmacist in the next decade, the authors reported.