By John A. Pieper
Spending a few minutes talking to a pharmacist the next time patients pick up prescriptions will put them on the path for better health. The state of Missouri now allows specially certified pharmacists, working under a protocol with a Missouri-licensed physician, to monitor and adjust medications for patients to manage diseases such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. These new rules will give patients better access to care and the benefit of enhanced visits with a pharmacist. As many people know, pharmacists are medication experts and the most accessible health care providers in the community.
Improving the response to drug therapy is increased when pharmacists and physicians work together to develop and implement a medication therapy protocol for each patient. Once established, the protocol may allow a pharmacist to give a patient a higher or lower dose of medication or change to an entirely different therapy based on a patient’s progress and goals. Certainly, the best way to treat a chronic disease is to regularly take medications as directed and follow your health team’s suggestions about diet and exercise. However, every patient is different, and being able to discuss questions and implement changes to therapy will underscore the valuable relationship between a patient and a pharmacist.
There has never been a better time for a closer relationship with a pharmacist. A recent study published by Forbes found that nearly one-third of all Americans regularly take at least one prescription drug, and half of those over age 55 are on prescription medications. Senior citizens take more prescription and over-the-counter medicine than any other age group. With an increase in medication use, the potential for drug interactions and side effects increases. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 100,000 Americans die every year from adverse drug reactions. Although patients, including many seniors, commonly have several physicians, they usually have only one pharmacist, and that pharmacist checks to make sure medications don’t interact with any other prescription or OTC medications. Pharmacists remain positioned to substantially reduce these errors.
The new medication therapy services rules also support the roles that pharmacists play as important members of the health care team. I believe, and scientific research supports, the new relationship between the pharmacist and patient will serve to complement and strengthen the bond between patients and physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. Missouri is one of the last states in the country to allow these physician-pharmacist collaborations. They are not yet allowed in Illinois. It is important to note these protocols do not cover controlled substances.
New pharmacists graduating from pharmacy school today have a doctor of pharmacy degree and have completed a rigorous educational program consisting of a minimum of six years of undergraduate and professional study. They are trained to manage thousands of complex medications and their effects on the body. Patients should ask their pharmacists and physicians about setting up an agreement to better health care services and improve health outcomes.
John A. Pieper is president of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.