Pharmacists stand at the center of new, collaborative health care models

As 30 million new patients enter the health care system over the next two years under the Affordable Care Act, patients and primary care doctors alike could start to feel the strain.

Luckily, physicians aren’t the only ones who can provide patients with the medical expertise that can help improve lives.

Pharmacists have been playing an increasingly important role in the health care system over the last few years and they’ll likely continue to do so as patients seek insight from more interdisciplinary, collaborative health care teams.

University of Minnesota professor of pharmaceutical care and health systems and director of the Center for Leading Healthcare Change within the College of PharmacyLowell Anderson, D.Sc., is looking for ways to improve the ways in which health care systems capitalize on the medication expertise of pharmacists.

“Most people’s concept of pharmacy is that they just fill prescriptions, but for years now, they’ve done much more,” said Lowell. “Instead of just being responsible for the integrity of drugs, they have grown to be able to provide services that help patients maximize the potential of their medication in a clinical setting.”

By having patients meet with a pharmacist about how their medication regimen is going or how their newly prescribed medication should be used, pharmacists can help free up time for primary care physicians, said Lowell.

Instead of sitting down with each patient and providing information on their new medication and how to use it, the physician can pass the task to someone with a specialty in medicine—the pharmacist—who  may be able to help find generic equivalents of a prescription, prevent harmful drug combinations and more.

Giving primary responsibility for monitoring medication to one person not only helps improve patient outcomes, but also reduces patient and hospital costs.

Under Anderson’s direction of the Medication Therapy Management Network benefit of the University of Minnesota employee health plan, UPlan, members taking four or more chronic condition medications have been made eligible for medication management services at no cost with a prescription copayment reduction.

“Collaborative practice is the way of the future,” said Anderson. “The pharmacist’s knowledge of how to work with patient prescriptions in a clinical setting should be utilized in the healthcare team to improve outcomes and reduce costs for everyone.”

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