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The Power and Potential of Pharmacists

As a society, we continue to invest in medications to mitigate the burden of disease on patient health and the health care system. Too often, though, our country’s several hundred billion-dollar annual investment fails to produce the health outcomes that it can and should.1 Suboptimal use of medications continues to prevent patients from realizing the full value of their medications. Though less visible than other public health challenges, failure to take medications as prescribed remains one of our most paradoxical and costly shortcomings. Recent research shows that up to $300 billion is spent annually on costs related to medication nonadherence alone.2 Nonadherence has also been associated with increased rates of hospital admissions and poorer health outcomes, including death. As a result, employers, patients and taxpayers spend an increasingly higher amount of money when doses of medications are missed.3

Secret community heroes

As health care professionals embedded throughout the community, pharmacists are favorably positioned to obtain insight as to the barriers patients face in taking their medications as prescribed. Medication regimen complexity, forgetfulness, lack of information and situational barriers such as lack of economic stability or social support may play a role in patient nonadherence. Pharmacists, the health care professionals who most frequently interact with patients, have the resources and context beyond the patient chart to assess each patient’s individual circumstances.

Pharmacists remain underutilized members of today’s health care team. Not only are we medication experts, but we also serve as outpatient care coordinators and chronic care managers. Our unique combination of accessibility and extensive medication expertise has great potential. Innovative, community-based pharmacy practice models are emerging to address our collective failure to realize the full societal benefit of well-organized, well-informed and well-supported medication use. Randomized studies of these models have shown that patients have greater medication adherence and lower health care costs.4-6 As a pharmacy owner, I believe that health care services should not end when medications are picked up. Rather, this marks the beginning of a patient’s journey to better health. I write on behalf of tens of thousands of pharmacists — please let us utilize our knowledge and skills to help.

  1. DHHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Observations on Trends in Prescription Drug Spending. 2016.
  2. Iuga AO, McGuire MJ. Adherence and health care costs. Risk Manag Healthc Policy 2014;7:35–44.
  3. Osterberg L, Blaschke T. Adherence to medication. N Engl J Med 2005;353:487–97.
  4. Brennan TA, Dollear TJ, Hu M, et al. An integrated pharmacy-based program improved medication prescription and adherence rates in diabetes patients. Health Aff (Millwood). 2012;31(1):120-129.
  5. Fischer MA, Choudhry NK, Bykov K, et al. Pharmacy-based Interventions to Reduce Primary Medication Nonadherence to Cardiovascular Medications. Med Care. 2014;52(12):1050-1054.
  6. Pringle JL, Boyer A, Conklin MH, et al. The Pennsylvania Project: pharmacist intervention improved medication adherence and reduced health care costs. Health Aff (Millwood). 2014;33(8):1444-1452.
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