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Pharmacy chains show their community sense

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The ongoing emergence of community pharmacy as a prominent player in the nation’s health care system was illustrated by a program sponsored by the Ohio Department of Aging last month. Thirty-six retail pharmacies, including outlets operated by Discount Drug Mart, Kroger, Rite Aid and Walgreens, offered free medication reviews on National Falls Prevention Awareness Day to help senior citizens eliminate one source of a problem that can have serious consequences.

MMR Opinion communityDuring the consultations, pharmacists assessed each individual’s use of medications — both prescription and over-the-counter drugs — to pinpoint cases where it might increase the risk of a fall. Potentially problematic medicines were flagged, and patients were advised to explore alternative treatment options with their physician.

“One in three Ohioans over the age of 60 will experience a fall this year, and falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths among our elders,” says Stephanie Loucka, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, which worked with the Ohio Older Adult Falls Prevention Coalition on the initiative. “Prevention starts by understanding the risks, and we thank our pharmacy partners for having this crucial conversation with their customers to identify medicines and interactions that could be putting them at increased risk for falling.”

The one-day program highlighted many of the strengths of community pharmacy, beginning with convenient patient access, something particularly important for the elderly. Stores operated by chain pharmacies sit within five miles of more than 90% of the U.S. population. Customers are usually served on a walk-in basis and can obtain free advice on a range of issues that impact their health and well-being.

What’s more, patients receive that information from a source in whom they have a great deal of confidence. For many years running, retail pharmacists have ranked among the top two or three professions of all kinds in the Gallup Poll for trustworthiness and honesty.

The reach of the profession in communities across the country, together with the frequency of interaction between pharmacists and patients (many of whom connect once a month when maintenance medications are refilled) makes pharmacy a pivotal point of contact in the broader health care system.

In recent years, the industry has demonstrated its ability to move the needle on important public health initiatives in diverse ways. Flu shots and other immunizations, which not all that long ago were the exclusive province of doctors’ offices and clinics, are now administered by the millions in community pharmacies. Routine diagnostic testing is increasingly available there. And information about important government health care programs, including Medicare Part D and the Affordable Care Act, is disseminated at or near the pharmacy counter.

Retail pharmacies, many of which also house clinics, are clearly moving toward becoming true community health care centers. At a time when the nation is pursuing the seemingly irreconcilable goals of substantially increasing the number of patients with coverage while improving outcomes and lowering costs, the industry has much to offer. It is incumbent on everyone with a stake in health care to leverage the pharmacy’s proven ability to meet the needs of a large number of patients effectively and efficiently. Maximizing the profession’s contributions will help patients, contain costs and enable other health care providers to focus on what they do best.


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