Sunday, June 4, 2023

Pharmacists Could Play a Big Role in Addressing the PCP Shortage – MedCity News

Research predicts that the U.S. may face a shortage of up to 124,000 physicians by 2034, which is especially problematic given that the demand for high-touch care is stronger than ever. 

People ages 65 and older are expected to make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. population by 2040 — most Americans in this age range have at least one chronic health condition, and 60% have at least two chronic conditions. With the dearth of primary care physicians getting more severe, how are care teams going to effectively treat these patients?

Integrating pharmacists into primary care teams could be a key way to solve this problem, according to a new report. Health information network Surescripts released the report on Tuesday during the HIMSS conference in Chicago.

When Surescripts examined new e-prescribers on its network, the average annual growth rate for primary care physicians was just 0.6% between 2018 and 2022. In contrast, the annual growth rate among non-primary care physicians continued to rise at 12.1%. The report found that nearly half of all U.S. counties have a shortage of primary care physicians — with just one for every 1,500 people.

Surescripts also found that a significant share of new e-prescribers that entered its network in 2022 worked in non-physician roles, such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Other roles are already writing prescriptions in day-to-day care settings, which shows that non-physician roles are becoming more and more central to the contemporary care team. 

The report argued that pharmacists are ready to join the expansion of primary care teams as well.

“The pandemic made it clear that pharmacists have the clinical training and desire to provide care beyond filling prescriptions. It highlighted an opportunity that exists for pharmacists to expand access to care for patients, complimenting primary care clinicians by working at the full scope of their license as integral members of care teams,” Surescripts CEO Frank Harvey said in a recent interview.

During the pandemic, pharmacists took on a variety of new tasks, such as testing for Covid-19, providing vaccinations, prescribing certain medications, adjusting dosage and checking vital signs, Harvey pointed out. These duties would ordinarily be given to physicians, physician assistants or nurse practitioners. But by expanding the role of pharmacists within the care team, traditional primary care providers can have more time to see patients who need their care the most, he explained.

In 61% of U.S. counties with a primary care physician shortage, there is a high volume of retail pharmacies, the report found.

“This is where we are seeing the greatest opportunity for pharmacists to help address communities’ unmet needs as part of patient care teams — with many of those opportunity areas found in rural counties in the Midwest and the South,” Harvey declared.

Policy is already evolving in favor of pharmacists delivering more clinical care, according to the report.

For example, nearly every state has laws allowing collaborative practice agreements between physicians and pharmacists, which allow pharmacists to provide clinical care. And most Americans want pandemic-era policies that make it easier for patients to access healthcare from pharmacists to be kept in place. 

Additionally, the healthcare system is slowly shifting toward value-based care models, which can help encourage pharmacists and traditional primary care providers to work as one team.

“More change to policy, payment models and advancing interoperability is needed to maintain the expanded authority given to pharmacists beyond the pandemic, allowing them to continue supporting access to care no matter where a patient lives,” Harvey argued.

Photo: JohnnyGreig, Getty Images

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