Healthcare is interdisciplinary. Care teams are frequently made up of physicians, nurses, physician’s assistants, pharmacists, therapists, social workers, and more. However, many pharmacists are not thought of as part of the care team, even though they are the most accessible clinicians for many people, with 90% of Americans living within five miles of a community pharmacy. What role can pharmacists play on the care team? How can better care team collaboration help improve patient care? Keep reading to learn more.
Pharmacists in Primary Care
Pharmacists are an important part of primary care. As mentioned above, they are the most accessible clinicians for many Americans. In fact, studies show that patients see their primary care pharmacists up to ten times more frequently than primary care physicians.
Many think pharmacists dispense medications, but they do so much more than that. Pharmacists in primary care can collaborate with a clinician team to order lab tests for monitoring outcomes of a medication, interpret data related to medication safety and effectiveness, initiate or modify medications, provide education and counseling to patients, document care in patient records, identify any barriers to patient compliance, communicate with payers, and more. Their scope of practice varies, but in some states they can even prescribe medications or modify prescriptions under specific circumstances.
Since pharmacists can do a lot to manage patients’ chronic conditions and other primary care concerns, they can help reduce the strain on PCPs. PCPs say that having a pharmacist on the care team available for comprehensive medication management decreases their workload and mental exhaustion while improving patient care and achievement of quality measures. Allowing pharmacists to practice to the top of their license can help relieve the strain on PCPs as the field is facing a worsening physician shortage.
Pharmacists Addressing Healthcare Costs
Pharmacists play a unique role with their ability to help address ever-rising healthcare costs. Medications play a big role in rising costs. In 2018 in the United States, $335 billion was spent on prescription drugs. CDC studies from 2015-2018 report that almost half of participants had used at least one prescription drug in the previous 30 days.
So how can pharmacists address healthcare costs? One way is by reviewing medication regimens for patients. A study found that having pharmacists review medications prior to hospital discharge reduced the number of medications to save over $65,000 for 58 patients, with no significant difference in readmissions or HCAHPS scores. This has the potential for significant cost savings, since In the United States, over two-thirds of physician visits and almost 80% of ED visits involve medications.
Pharmacists can also help reduce costs by increasing provider access. For example, a pharmacist is a great resource for patients that are having trouble managing medications and treatment for their chronic conditions. This can not only improve the care for this individual patient to help reduce costly emergent care, but it also allows the PCPs to see other patients for different issues that require the knowledge of a physician.
Communication Barrier and Solutions
There are many advantages to actively including pharmacists in care teams. So what is stopping this teamwork? Communication is the major issue. Pharmacists say that they are often not given patient information, are given inaccurate information, or the information is so delayed that it is not available when the patient comes in. Community pharmacists estimate they learn of patients’ discharge less than 10% of the time, despite the important role they play in their patient’s care.
Collaborative, clinician-focused technology can enhance communication for the entire care team. Tools that can provide real-time updates to patient notes help pharmacists provide the best patient education and care. For pharmacists that help manage chronic care for the long-term, it is helpful to see PCP and specialist notes so they can view any changes and adjust the care plan accordingly.
Interdisciplinary care teams can be so beneficial for patients, but it’s crucial that everyone on the care team can easily and thoroughly communicate so that the patient receives the best care.