Pharmacists are part of the primary care ‘dream team’

Three-quarters of health professionals say having a pharmacists on the team could improve care

A majority of health professionals support creation of a broad primary care team that includes pharmacists and other nonphysician providers to optimize time, spending, and outcomes—but primary care physicians (PCPs) rarely work with such a team, according to a report from the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute (HRI). The findings presented in ROI for Primary  Care: Building the Healthcare Dream Team were based on the results of 2015 and 2016 surveys of 1,500 health care providers—pharmacists among them—and 1,750 patients.

Physicians and patients agree

While participating physicians expressed particular interest in working with occupational, physical, and speech therapists, dietitians, and—for three out of four of those who responded—pharmacists, few actually did.

“Physicians routinely indicated that a pharmacist should be part of their ‘dream team’ to deliver care, but the fact of the matter is that the results of this also show that greater than 80% of the physicians said they were not working with pharmacists directly, didn’t have any immediate plans to do so, even though almost an equal number said there was value around including a pharmacist, particularly in the areas of medication reviews,” said Allan Zimmerman, BSPharm, MBA, national pharmacy practice leader at PwC.

Patients also responded that an extended team of diverse health care providers and caregivers designed around their specific needs and preferences would be desirable and effective.

“In fact, 50% of consumers indicated that they’d be happy seeing a pharmacist instead of a physician for certain services, and 90% said that their pharmacist was an effective clinician,” Zimmerman said.

Primary care in the new health economy

The report urges the formation of primary care “dream teams” designed around patients’ medical, social, and behavioral considerations to ensure patients engage the most beneficial and appropriate health professional to accommodate their health and well-being.

Doing so, the report says, will result in financial savings. For example, developing a primary care structure that includes 0.2 full-time equivalent pharmacist for patients with more than one chronic condition—what HRI classifies as the “complex chronic” population—could potentially result in $1.2 million in savings for every 10,000 patients served. HRI presents three examples of health care systems that generated return on investment in medication therapy management or having pharmacists and practices work together to address adherence.

“The report did specifically call out the impactful role of pharmacists and the role pharmacists play in mitigating medication nonadherence, polypharmacy, adverse events, and all those areas that pharmacists are known to excel in, as well other contemporary areas well suited for pharmacist intervention such as medication reconciliation, identification of more cost-effective therapies and clinical efficient therapies, and so forth,” Zimmerman said.

“I’ve been in the industry for decades now, as a pharmacist, and we’ve been talking about the role and expanding role of the pharmacist for a long, long time. There have been pilot studies, there have been some best practices that have evolved, and these concepts [about the expanded role of the pharmacist] are not particularly new. I feel like the environment is changing, and every idea has its time, and this just may be the time for pharmacists to play a more integrative role in overall health care delivery,” he added.