In a landscape of skyrocketing health costs, governments and payers are continually looking for ways to reduce costs.
by Carlene Oleksyn
The focus is on the product, and how to deliver it to the patient in the least expensive way possible. Lowering labour costs becomes a priority, thus the increase of utilizing technology and lower wage employees to fill the pharmacist’s role. Why pay a pharmacist to check prescriptions when there is evidence that technicians check as accurately as or more accurately than a pharmacist? The coming disruption of artificial intelligence (AI) on healthcare will also not leave pharmacists unscathed. For example, AI can assess drug-drug interactions and make recommendations based on many variables. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
The greatest threat to pharmacy practice today, however, is in pharmacists maintaining their relevancy to both patients and payers. While we are becoming less necessary for technical work and checking prescriptions, our other role as “counselling” on medications can also easily become obsolete. Before the advent of the internet, pharmacists were the only source of drug information. There was no Google, no way for patients to find information about their medications or medical conditions. They had to come to a pharmacist. We were the source of all drug knowledge.
So, are pharmacists still relevant in the information and technology age? When we “counsel” patients we are essentially giving them information. We now live in an era where patients carry computers in their pockets and can access drug information at their convenience. How much value then is placed on the role of the pharmacist as provider of information? How relevant do patients feel we are? How about 10 years from now as information and technology continue its encompassing trajectory? The rise of internet shopping and players such as Amazon entering the pharmacy space will put added pressure on bricks and mortar pharmacies. When patients can now be forced by third party payers to use only mail order, discount or internet-based pharmacies for their drugs to be covered by insurance, where does that leave the average community pharmacy?
Carlene Oleksyn is a pharmacist with more than 20 years experience, and owner of an independent pharmacy practice in Stony Plain, Alberta. Her practice focuses on maximizing professional services, including fully utilizing her prescribing authority, as well as appointment-based services and engaging patients in optimizing health outcomes. Carlene is also a consultant in the field of medical continuing education, innovative pharmacy practice and pharmacy practice change. Carlene can be found at colekPharm.com