Patients need pharmacists on the health care team

Increasing use of medication requires more consultation

Special to the Herald-LeaderJune 2, 2013 

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Almost half of the American population suffers from one or more chronic conditions, and with Americans living longer, that number is expected to grow. Use of medications is the most common treatment approach for managing chronic disease.

The Affordable Care Act should enable health care access to millions more Americans, which means medication use is also expected to rise.

A team approach to care, where each professional contributes based on his or her individual expertise, is needed to ensure patients receive the best care possible. Pharmacists are recognized as the medication experts on the team and the patient-care services they provide have grown beyond functions tied to medication product and delivery.

Today, pharmacists work with doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners to provide a wide range of clinical services, such as medication therapy management, prevention and wellness services, and chronic disease management.

Medication therapy management: Services include reviewing a patient's medication regimen to determine whether the medications being used are appropriate, that they are being given in doses that are optimal, that they are safe and do not interact with other medications, and that they are free from adverse effects.

Prevention and wellness: Services include immunizations and screenings for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis. Over the past decade, pharmacists have become key providers of vaccinations to prevent a variety of diseases, including flu, pneumococcal disease and shingles.

Chronic disease management: Pharmacists also play a key role in managing chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart failure. By helping patients and health care providers manage the medications taken for these diseases and monitoring patients' response to medications and other treatments, pharmacists improve disease control and patient quality of life.

When pharmacists are involved as members of the health care team, patient outcomes improve, drug-related adverse events are decreased, access to primary care services are improved, patients report higher rates of satisfaction and overall health care costs are reduced.

Because current payment models for pharmacists' services are often tied to medication product and delivery rather than based on the patient-care services they provide, this sometimes limits pharmacist involvement on the health care team.

However, numerous pharmacy organizations are working with other health care provider groups as well as state and federal legislative bodies to support pharmacists' inclusion as a valuable member of the health care team. Such recognition would allow pharmacists to work with physicians and other health care professionals in a more sustainable and consistent way to optimize medication therapy and deliver effective patient-centered care.

The University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy has established the Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice to transform pharmacy practice within the state and on a national level. The center is working with pharmacists in Kentucky to advance pharmacists' patient care services and to obtain recognition as valued members of the health care team.

Mandy Jones is clinical assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy's Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science. Trish Freeman is clinical associate professor in that department and director of the Center for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice.

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