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The fall season brings with it a number of changes: cooler weather, shorter days and a return to regular routines with students back in school. It’s also the start of the annual cold and flu season.
Vaccination drives at local pharmacies are no longer just for the flu vaccine. Now, they include the new COVID-19 booster, a new RSV vaccine and other vaccines to prevent shingles, pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis.
We may not realize it, but the ability to get a vaccination for a number of common illnesses at the pharmacy, administered by the pharmacist, is a big change in itself. It quickly became commonplace during COVID-19 to visit the pharmacy for some healthcare needs but given the worsening primary care provider shortage across the country, patients continue to seek care from their pharmacist.
The question now: will pharmacists be able to continue administering vaccines, testing and treating for common illnesses and providing other primary care services for patients in their communities or are more changes on the horizon?
As cold and flu season hits, we’re taking the temperature on federal legislation that could reinforce the framework for pharmacists to continue fulfilling an important role supporting patient care teams.
A pair of bills, HR 1770 and S 2477, known as the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act, have been introduced in both the United States House and Senate. This legislation would establish reimbursement for essential services provided by pharmacists for Medicare patients, including testing, treatment and vaccination for common infectious diseases, including COVID-19, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat), as well as vaccines for pneumococcal disease, COVID-19, influenza or hepatitis B.
Simply put, this policy change would establish a roadmap for pharmacists to receive compensation for services they are already providing within their scope of practice. It would also ensure pharmacists could continue filling the growing gaps in primary care impacting patients across the country. These policy changes have the broad support of healthcare industry stakeholders and patients. A majority of Americans agree that pandemic-era policies that make it easier for patients to access services from pharmacists and other pharmacy team members should be kept in place, according to a 2022 survey.
The need for pharmacists to help support patient care is apparent. As primary care provider shortages worsen, with just one PCP for every 1,500 people in nearly half of the 3,233 U.S. counties according to our research, pharmacists have the education and training that make them well-positioned to help fill these gaps.
We've also seen that pharmacists are aiding in the care of patients with chronic conditions more regularly. On the Surescripts network, the number of e-prescriptions issued by pharmacists increased 47% from 2019 to 2022 with drugs used to treat chronic conditions consistently topping the list of medications they prescribed – most likely under collaborative practice agreements.
When nearly 20% of all American adults have two or more chronic conditions and 52% for those age 65 and older, it tracks that in 2022, the top three drug classes prescribed by pharmacists included: diabetes mellitus agents or medications to treat diabetes, psychoanaleptics used to treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and ADHD and antithrombotic agents or blood thinning medications.
Vaccinations, tests and frontline treatments – all administered through the convenience of the community pharmacy – would likely have a significant positive impact on individual and community levels of accessible primary care.
Existing technology has supported the changes in how patients access care, connecting pharmacists and primary care providers to work collaboratively. And they want to continue this work with 89% of prescribers and 97% of pharmacists who agree it's important for the healthcare industry to move toward team-based care and 78% of prescribers and 92% of pharmacists say the top benefit of pharmacists providing more clinical care is improved patient outcomes, according to a recent survey.
But delivering patient intelligence to the care team is just one part—the healthcare industry must continue moving forward to align the policy and payment structures that fully empower pharmacists to continue caring for patients as part of a team.
Just as the seasons change and we look forward to the best parts of fall—football, sweaters, pumpkin spice – we hope that with any changes to patient care, the best parts, including visits to the local pharmacy for vaccinations and important wellness screenings, continue to be part of the routine.
Learn more about how Surescripts is empowering clinicians to provide accessible care for patients no matter where they live.