“The pharmacist of tomorrow is going to be unrecognizable to most of us. He might not be a vending machine, but he’s not going to be that quiet old white-haired guy up behind the counter, either.”  –  Jim Ammen

Part of the team… 

Harnessing the power of a pharmacist’s knowledge and expertise to control healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes has been a difficult process. Those promoting the transformation of the role of the pharmacist from the traditional dispenser of medications to a dispenser of information have always been confronted with the question of “who will pay for these services”. Fortunately, since the implementation of Medicare-D, the value of pharmacists providing cognitive services, including medication therapy management MTM services, has become more widely recognized.

But even with this increased recognition, the profession of pharmacy is still facing a sort of ‘identity crisis’. “Pharmacists see themselves as having nine different identities” according to a recent @ChemistDruggist article, thus suggesting they play a ‘flexible role’ in healthcare but remain uncertain of the future.

It’s been a long time coming…

The decade long push for recognizing pharmacists as healthcare providers is finally seeing results. Recent legislation in California became law when Governor Jerry Brown signed the pharmacist provider status bill (SB 493) recognizing pharmacists as healthcare providers. I’m sure other states will be looking at similar legislation in the near future. But will the new legal recognition as providers get pharmacists a seat at the healthcare team table?

“Pharmacists are working more closely with patients and healthcare colleagues in hospitals, outreach teams, patients’ homes, residential care, team graphichospices, and general practice” reports the Royal Pharmaceutical Society @rpharms in ‘Now or Never: Shaping Pharmacy for the Future’. In the U.S. the team based care approach continues to get a foothold with pharmacists participating in patient centered medical home models, accountable care organizations and in collaborative arrangements with other healthcare providers. But we have a long road ahead until we’ll actually see a majority of pharmacists participating as a member of the healthcare team on this level.

It all makes sense…

There are areas where it’s been shown pharmacists can contribute as a first string member of the healthcare plan team. Take medication non-adherence for example. The cost of non-adherence and compliance to prescribed medication therapy has been reported to be well over $290 billion annually in the United States. This is often a direct reflection of the lack of a patient’s understanding of their particular disease state and how their medication therapy can control or improve their particular condition. This is a great example where having a pharmacist on the care plan team makes a great deal of sense, especially at any point of transitional care.

A major component of the patient care plan consists of properly treating the patient’s disease state with appropriate drug therapy. When there is a breakdown, pause or discontinuation of medication therapy by a patient, i.e. lack of medication adherence or compliance, one can almost always predict a breakdown in overall patient care. This can result in increased hospital re-admissions, lack of disease control, increased complications and of course, increased healthcare costs.

Including a pharmacist in the patient care plan process can improve patient outcomes, especially during transitional care. About 1 in 5 Medicare patients who leave the hospital are readmitted withing 30 days. “We know that people who have medication discrepancies, or are not adhering to what the health care team thought they were adhering to, have at least double the risk of becoming a readmission” reports Jane Brock, MD, of the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care. 

Pharmacists should be given the role of patient care managers and  should be performing services such as medication reconciliation, checking for potential adverse drug reactions, performing patient education and other patient oriented services such such as MTM whenever there is a transition inlogo_white medical care. They should also be directly involved with follow-up services to ensure adherence and compliance to drug therapy and report this back to the patient care plan team. Compliance to drug therapy is critical in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease and community pharmacists are in an ideal position to fulfill this role. 

Moving forward…

I’ve written before on the topic of pharmacists “being the healthcare provider”. As PROVIDERS of services (including MTM services) and EDUCATORS to help patients understand their medications and medical conditions, pharmacists will be recognized as a resource to ensure continuity through the transitions of healthcare, thus changing patient’s lives, improving outcomes and saving healthcare dollars.

So again I say “Be the Provider” and take an active roll as part of the patient care planning team.

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It’s a fact:  People don’t take their medicine correctly.  Poor adherence or lack of compliance to prescription medication therapy costs the U.S. billions of dollars each year!

You may or may not be aware that medication adherence and compliance is a hot topic today. Over $290 billion dollars is spent annually as a result of poor medication adherence.

Poor medication therapy adherence costs over $290 billion each year.

And when you start to look at the costs of adverse drug events, inappropriate or ineffective therapy, you’re looking at somewhere between 1/2 to 1 trillion dollars spent in the U.S. annually over and above the cost of the drugs prescribed to treat U.S. patients.

Pharmacists are able to help control many of these costs through comprehensive medication reviews and medication therapy management MTM.

As we become more conscious of healthcare costs we are seeing how pharmacist MTM services will help control costs within the accountable care organization ACO or continuity of care organization CCO settings that are evolving. Patient centered medical home models have shown that the involvement of a pharmacist, in direct patient care, will help reduce these costs. Utilizing the knowledge base of pharmacists and enlisting them as ‘patient care managers’ would directly improve patient care and save healthcare dollars.

Medication therapy management MTM has been available and covered under Medicare Part D since 2006. Patients who qualify, based on the number of medications prescribed and the number of patient disease states, can receive comprehensive medication reviews at no cost, covered by Medicare Part D.

But pharmacist MTM is also evolving from providing MTM services to only Medicare Part D patients. Many pharmacists are moving forward providing MTM services to patients not covered under Medicare D, including patients who are not covered for MTM services, or those who would be considered private pay patients.

Although patients may not meet the criteria of 3rd party payers for MTM services (# disease states, # meds taken, etc.), these patients can benefit from comprehensive medication reviews. A pharmacist medication review and coaching for patients who are diabetic, hypertensive, COPD, etc., will improve adherence, often saving healthcare expenses and improving patient lives through better medication therapy.

There is a great deal of pharmacist interest in providing independent MTM consultations to these patients who do not fall under the Medicare D category. This is the area of focus Spectrum Health MTM Group is working on to provide comprehensive medication reviews on a much broader scope through a network of individual, independent pharmacist MTM consultants.

Spectrum Health MTM Group is pushing the concept of  pharmacists as patient care managers and helping MTM pharmacists to work with patients and healthcare providers to improve patient lives, improve adherence to medication therapy and reduce healthcare costs.

For more information visit www.ezMTMbiz.com 

“The pharmacist of tomorrow is going to be unrecognizable to most of us. He might not be a vending machine, but he’s not going to be that quiet old white-haired guy up behind the counter, either.”  —  Jim Ammen as quoted on QuoteSea.

W.C. Fields in The Pharmacist, 1933

The profession of pharmacy is rapidly changing in the 21st century. Gone are the days past when there was a pharmacy on nearly every corner in town and the Rexall brand was known in every household. Independent druggists were first line caregivers in the community, often prescribing medications for illness and ailments when patients could not see a physician. Community pharmacists were seen as a pillar of society… independent, highly visible in the community and usually considered well off financially.

Hospital pharmacies, on the other hand, were usually found in the basement, with an existence almost unknown to physicians, nurses and patients alike. The hospital pharmacy existed, in the mind of many people, solely to perform the dispensing and delivery of prescription medications as ordered by the physician. And likewise, the hospital pharmacist often had an image to match. Their salaries even lagged behind those pharmacists in a community setting until fairly recently. But hospital pharmacist stepped up to the challenge.

Times are a changin’…

Hospital pharmacists began performing many clinical functions supporting the delivery of care in addition to the delivery of drugs. An increasing level in the sophistication and number of pharmaceuticals required an increasing level of knowledge and sophistication on the part of pharmacists as well. While the community pharmacist was still counting by fives and ‘lickin and stickin’ labels, hospital pharmacists were taking on greater roles in drug delivery and patient centric clinical functions. Adding to that the increasing numbers of chemotherapeutic agents, radiopharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, nuclear pharmacy and technological advances in drug delivery have made hospital pharmacy a specialty at the very least.

We now see community pharmacists suffering from numerous attacks on their livelihood. Increasing numbers of third party payers, decreasing margins and higher stress and demand in the prescription filling process have fueled the frustration of many pharmacists:

“The word out in the pharmacy community is that the small pharmacist was sold down the river by the drug companies and the PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers)” — Doug Larson

“I’ve been a pharmacist for 40 years now, and Monday morning I didn’t want to come to work because I knew what would await me. Basically, we’ve got a travesty on our hands” — Charles Pace

“It’s every independent pharmacist’s worst nightmare. There isn’t one component that’s working. It’s so extensive that it’s hard to imagine it’s going to get fixed — Todd Brown   (all quoted from QuoteSea/pharmacists)

These and many other unrepeatable quotes and comments are being heard daily from pharmacists who are overworked and under appreciated, being pushed along towards burnout and increasingly locked into the ‘golden handcuffs’ of the chain pharmacy bullies of the industry. Is it any wonder community pharmacists are complaining?

“I’ve tried to maintain an uneasy balance between your friendly unassuming neighborhood pharmacist and Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho‘ – Roger Bart, (check the date) September 29, 1962!!

Anthony Perkins as 'Norman Bates' - 'Psycho' 1960

Many of the remaining independents are on the verge of financial ruin. Those who work in chain drugstore settings are frustrated, confused and tired of the ongoing abuse they receive. It’s amazing that we don’t have more pharmacists going postal or psycho as a result of the stressful conditions they work in.”

What will it take to bring about the necessary change in the profession? Payment for cognitive services or medication therapy management services is a step in the right direction. Recognition as healthcare providers by healthcare, governmental and third party payers would also help change this environment. But what will be the driving force to secure the future of community pharmacy?

You Are!

We, who want to be the pharmacists of tomorrow, are going to have to step up and take the lead toward securing the profession. We can’t count on professional associations and lobbyists to do it for us. Many of our professional associations are being managed by non-pharmacists (and we complain about non-pharmacists in corporate managerial positions). New pharmacists coming into the ranks must be prepared to recognize the opportunities that exist. And like the rest of us, they also need to stand up for what is morally right for the profession. We all need to take a lead on providing care that is patient oriented and always look out for the patient’s interests, even when it might be contrary to the ‘business as usual’ profit driven policies of corporate pharmacy. Doing so will win their confidence and secure their advocacy for the services you provide them. If your patients are being served appropriately and their needs taken care of you can be sure their voice of support will be heard.

Step up and do the ‘next right thing’ when it comes to taking care of your patients. Look forward to and expect the changes to take place, but only after you have done your part. Our future will be what we make it to be. Each of you in the profession of pharmacy has an obligation to stand for what you believe. After all, if you don’t, who will?

Twitter’s @ThePharmerGuy recently posted on his blog ‘Another Day Behind the Pharmacy Counter…’ asking the question:  Why Can’t Pharmacists Prescribe?  He details a very good argument as to why pharmacists should have prescription authority.   My thoughts on this topic follow below:

I totally agree it’s past time for pharmacists to be given prescribing authority, at least on a limited basis. There are so many instances where a pharmacist could make the decision to appropriately select and prescribe from a limited formulary of medications for a number of common disease states.

Pharmacists receive more intensive training and are more qualified to make decisions regarding appropriate medication therapy than most nurse practitioners or physicians assistants I know, and probably more qualified than many MDs as well.

Prescribing authority is given to MDs, NPs and PAs, in my opinion, after receiving basic training algorithms to assist them in making prescribing decisions based on their diagnosis. They don’t receive near the training or knowledge base in pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, adverse drug reactions and drug interactions that should be used in the drug prescribing process. They are also somewhat dependent on and easily swayed by the influence of pharmaceutical sales and marketing efforts, something which pharmacists are able to sort through by throwing out the hype and making better clinical decisions based on rational therapeutic approaches.

And, from what I have seen, most prescribers are easily swayed by their patients as well. All of the direct to consumer pharma advertising has created a patient population who go the the doctor with their expectations of what should be prescribed… and sometimes get upset when they don’t get what they want!

Pharmacist prescribing would expedite patient care and lower the cost of care by facilitating or streamlining the process of finding the correct medication and dose to reach and maintain therapeutic goals. This would tie in very well with a medication therapy management type of pharmacy practice that monitors new medications and makes changes or adjustments quickly and efficiently based on patient response to therapy.

All this would help to reduce costs associated with patient medication therapy,improve and streamline the process of reaching therapeutic goals, aid in assisting, educating and counseling patients to ensure compliance and adherence to drug therapy and improve patient outcomes.

The PharmD vs. BSPharmacy status for prescribing authority will need to be addressed in some manner. Pharmacists were making decisions regarding appropriate medication selection and use decades ago. It wasn’t until the prescriber and dispenser functions began to change that pharmacists  began to lose the authority to ‘prescribe’ all but those medications given OTC status. Generally speaking, most RPhs have as much knowledge and decision making skills when it comes to prescribing as those who prescribe the prescription orders they fill and dispense. Same with PharmDs.

Yes, it is time for pharmacists to be given prescribing authority, if even on a limited basis. I would expect that this authority would be expanded after a year or two of monitoring said prescribing authority based on the positive outcomes we would see.

Nearly three years ago I wrote a blog post titled ‘OBRA (’90), Where art Thou… and Where art We?’ .  In it I wrote  the following paragraph as I was questioning why many pharmacists are reluctant to be ‘patient pro-active’ and get involved with changing trends in the profession

” I don’t understand why some pharmacists have been reluctant to get involved with the evolution of their profession and provide effective patient counseling. Perhaps those pharmacists are practicing in a workplace not conducive to patient counseling or maybe they are fearfull of patient interaction. Possibly they are just not interested in getting involved, in which case I would suggest they consider a new profession. Regardless of the specific scenario, I think it is time for another call for action. Pharmacists need to get involved in counseling and educating their patients now!”  (Pharmacy 2.0 and 1/2 March 18th, 2009).

Fast forward to the year 2012.  The pharmacy world continues to watch and wait as we follow the WAG vs. ESI saga amidst reducing third party reimbursement, changing pharmacy regulations and many pharmacy Boards extending a ‘blind eye’ towards idiotic (or insane)  ‘15 minutes or it’s free ‘ types of corporate policies that are dangerous for the public and demeaning to the practice of pharmacy.

I’ve heard it for years… pharmacists will be providing counseling and cognitive services to patients and GETTING PAID FOR IT in the near future.   I remember first hearing it before I graduated from pharmacy school in the ’70s.  I always believed it and thought OBRA ’90 legislation might be the beginning of it.  But I was disappointed to see this happening only in a few areas of pharmacy like long term care.  Many pharmacists failed to recognize the potential for patient counseling and most members of the pharmacy corporate world continued to place profits before patients, ignoring the need and disregarding the future of the profession.

But I still believed it to be true.  Pharmacists will be providing comprehensive patient counseling and cognitive services and getting paid for it.  This is a valuable service to provide to our patients and customers that will improve their lives.  This is a service that saves health care dollars in the long run.

Early this century, MTM became the new pharmacy buzz word.   According to my ‘trusted sources’ at Wikipedia, Medication therapy management (MTM) is a partnership between the pharmacist, the patient and their caregiver, and other health professionals that promotes the safe and effective use of medications and helps patients achieve the targeted outcomes from medication therapy.  (see www.pharmacist.com)

I like that definition of MTM.  Unlike the Medication Modernization Act 2003 it specifically states that MTM is a partnership between THE PHARMACIST, the patient and their caregiver.  Not a nurse, not a physician or any other health care professional.  The pharmacist is THE member of the health care team best qualified to provide medication therapy management services.

So who’s ready to get on board with MTM?  Will pharmacists finally step up to the plate and qualify themselves to be actively involved with MTM?  The future is happening right now!  Pharmacists are being paid for MTM and other cognitive services.  This is becoming reality and will become the norm in pharmacy practice.

There is power in numbers.  It will only be through the power of those involved in providing these types services.  It cannot be achieved any other way.  Not by by associations or organizations;  and certainly not through legislation or pharmacy boards.  It will only come from the strength of those providing the MTM services.  Everyone and everything else is only an appendage and supportive in nature.

Together, as a unified group, MTM pharmacists can make that happen.  You might ask “how are we to do this”?  

The Community Clinical Pharmacists MTM Group on LinkedIn is one of the ways to achieve this.  If you have not started a LinkedIn profile you need to consider it now, especially if you want to start an MTM practice.  The ccpMTMgroup is designed primarily for pharmacists who are interested in providing independent MTM consulting services.  This is the first step in setting up a network of MTM pharmacists committed to promoting and providing pharmacy MTM services.  I invite you to join this group and take part in the discussion and be part of this transition towards independent MTM consulting. As a group we can overcome the obstacles in our path and achieve this goal.

Albert Einstein  defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.  Pharmacists cannot expect to continue with a ‘business as usual’ attitude and expect the necessary changes to take place.  We need to create an environment to accommodate these changes.

Now is the time for a new call to action that stimulates pharmacists to take steps to make this change happen. Pharmacists cannot continue (as @empress_penguin ‘s Twitter profile translates) like  “clumsy penguins swimming in the sea of mothers across health and welfare”  and expect this change to happen.  (Google Translate – Japanese to English).  (Since I don’t speak Japanese I don’t fully understand what that means but it seems to be representative and descriptive of the pharmacy profession at times.)

We need to change that now.  Pharmacists need to stop swimming ‘clumsily’ and erratically with the currents.  We need to set our sites on the goal and fight the currents in the river of Lethe we’ve been in for years.  Pharmacists must learn to swim upstream towards those goals that will maximize our efforts to improve patient care and strengthen our position as a health care professionals.

Decide now to commit to action or get out of the way of progress.  If you stood back with a ‘wait and see’ attitude when OBRA ’90 was put in place, we don’t need you now – unless you are ready to step up and make the necessary changes.  “It’s time to get down and dirty and practical, so let’s focus on what might really work to make progress on… change at the grassroots level”.  (see ‘How to Create Change’, sustainablebusiness.com)

To be successful in this endeavor MTM Pharmacists need to:

  • Decide to ‘DO IT’ and incorporate MTM opportunities into their pharmacy practice
  • Commit to a PLAN OF ACTION to facilitate the necessary changes for practicing appropriate MTM principles
  • FOLLOW THROUGH with their plan for implementing MTM within their practice setting
  • Support and encourage their colleagues who are involved with MTM and educate the public to the benefits of MTM services
We cannot continue with the ‘wait and see’ attitude that has constrained the profession of pharmacy in the past.  If we educate ourselves, educate our patients, get involved and follow the course we will gain momentum in the process and our efforts will bring positive results.  But it’s up to us, YOU and I, to work towards this end.