As one of healthcare’s most accessible clinicians, clinical pharmacists can often be found dispensing medications, managing inventory, and overseeing pharmacy technicians in settings from local grocery stores to community pharmacies and hospitals. What we don’t often see are the challenges that these highly educated clinicians face. Today, pharmacists struggle with pharmacy closures, staffing shortages, and long lines of patients waiting for prescriptions while phone lines often ring off the hook. Let’s explore the role of pharmacists, how their roles are changing, and some potential solutions to the challenges they face.
The role of clinical pharmacists in patient care
Most notable of all pharmacist responsibilities if that of dispensing medications, yet they are capable of so much more. These valuable clinicians are a key component to any comprehensive patient care team. In fact, pharmacists can provide many direct care services such as medication therapy management and chronic disease management. Harnessing their extensive medication knowledge, pharmacists can more efficiently and effectively identify, detect, and correct errors or contraindications within a patient’s medication regimen.
Perhaps the pharmacist-led service with the most outsized impact is medication therapy management or MTM. MTM is a service in which pharmacists take a comprehensive look at each and every medication and supplement that a patient is taking, with the goal of identifying errors, duplicative therapies, and/or harmful side effects. Under the watchful care of a pharmacist, countless patient medication errors can be prevented, resulting in improved health and quality of life for patients while reducing the number of adverse drug events and preventable hospital admissions. MTM has also been shown to improve medication adherence rates through the patient education delivered during the consultation. Medication adherence is critical to maintaining health, especially in chronically ill patients taking complex, high-cost, specialty medications.
How the clinical pharmacist’s role has changed
During the first half of the 20th century, it was considered an invasion of privacy for pharmacists to speak with patients about their medications, as medication dispensing was their sole purpose. Later in the 20th century, the profession evolved to view “customers” as “patients,” pivoting away from transactional dispensing into taking a clinical approach towards managing patient health. Improved record keeping and increased patient centricity forged the path to the future of pharmacy.
Traditionally, the role of a pharmacist was that of a medication expert. While it’s true that pharmacists have extensive medication expertise, their role has thankfully evolved to that of a collaborative caregiver. Using their medication knowledge, pharmacists focus on optimizing medication use by ensuring patients not only have the right medications, but that they are receiving the maximum benefit from them.
Challenges for the clinical pharmacist
In recent years, the role of a clinical pharmacist has become more difficult than ever before. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists worked harder, for longer hours, with less support. Pharmacists have become the catch-all workhorses of traditional retail pharmacy environments: inventory keeper, people manager, scheduler, all of which leave them little to no time to practice as a clinical pharmacist.
High-stress work environments
While the tasks they manage are no doubt vital, they are simply not the reasons that pharmacists chose the profession. Most pharmacists chose their profession to help people become and stay as healthy as possible through the power of modern medications. On top of their administrative responsibilities, clinical pharmacists must deliver MTM consultations within the confines of hectic environments. If you’ve visited a pharmacy recently, you know that ringing phones and long lines make it difficult, if not impossible, to have a productive, in-depth medication consultation.
Lack of autonomy and career confidence
Despite working longer hours in increasingly demanding environments, pharmacists – even prior to current economic uncertainties – are suffering from a lack of job security. They are often hired in droves during times of high demand and laid off in relatively short order once the tasks at hand are complete. How can we expect a doctorate-level clinician to perform at their best without freedom, flexibility, or confidence in their employment?
How to overcome challenges for clinical pharmacists
Contrasting the difficulties of the pharmacy profession, there are new, innovative platforms and models which give pharmacists the career options they deserve.
Founded by pharmacists, for pharmacists, Aspen RxHealth uses a gig-economy model to deliver high-quality clinical pharmacy services to patients across the country. The marketplace model allows for flexibility – both for the thousands of pharmacists and the client partners they serve. Pharmacists can now – for the first time ever – choose to work as much or as little as they’d like, delivering clinical consultations from the comfort of their own home.
Reaching more patients than ever before, more than 7,000 pharmacists across the nation are delivering patient consultations through a simple-to-use iOS application. And because there is more time to treat the whole patient versus “checking a box”, pharmacists can deliver comprehensive medication management – a comprehensive approach which removes barriers to care and allows for the development of long-term relationships between the pharmacist and their panel of patients.
While the pharmacist profession has faced its fair share of difficulties, recent telehealth technologies such as Aspen RxHealth serve as a silver lining. Pharmacists no longer need to feel stressed to dispense medications and deliver consultations at the same time.
If you or someone you know is a pharmacist looking to make a career change in pursuit of freedom and flexibility, consider joining the Aspen RxHealth Pharmacist Community. Learn more about what it means to become an Aspen RxHealth Pharmacist.