There are nearly 300,000 pharmacists in the United States, but this group of healthcare professionals (HCPs) is often overlooked when it comes to pharma outreach. And that’s surprising, because community pharmacists increasingly play a significant role when patients are making decisions about medications. Consider that pharmacists:
- Are highly accessible to patients. Often, pharmacists are the HCPs that patients spend the most time talking to. Clinical professionals often have only a few minutes per patient. Community pharmacists, on the other hand, typically have more time to talk with patients who want to discuss their lives, their conditions and their treatments. The rise of in-pharmacy clinics, such as Minute Clinic, shows that patients appreciate the easier access they can get to an HCP. And as a result, pharmacists are playing an increasingly clinical role in patients’ health.
- Are hungry for attention and information. Pharmacists require, and often appreciate, continuing education. Many take free courses online — some of which are sponsored by pharma. Some sales representatives do call on some pharmacists, but it isn’t often, and it’s less common than in the past, which means that pharmacists are often left out of pharma companies’ outreach programs. Educational materials are enormously helpful for pharmacists — not only to stay abreast of changes in the prescribing landscape, but also to help in working with patients.
- Provide advice beyond Rx treatments. Pharmacists can influence decisions around prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as other health-related products found on pharmacy shelves. Their interactions with patients have expanded from strictly providing guidance on prescribed medication use: From smoking-cessation programs to properly monitoring blood pressure, there are many types of hands-on conversations that pharmacists have with patients that can affect health outcomes.
- Often spend time talking to patients and doctors about medication switches and recommendations, collaborating across the care continuum. Whether discussing a drug interaction, a side effect, or a coverage issue, pharmacists can work with physicians, other HCPs, and even payers to act as the glue in a patient’s complex treatment mix.
Some disease states are more likely affected by pharmacist influence than others — allergy, endocrinology and behavioral medicine, for example, probably involve a pharmacist more than oncology.
Pharmacist outreach doesn’t make sense for every brand, but for those that rely on pharmacists’ input for successful brand and patient outcomes, it can be an important — yet often overlooked — audience. Pharmacists are a critical line of defense in many situations: preventing treatment errors (such as similar-sounding drug names) and medication interactions, identifying side effects, helping to negotiate issues around compliance and adherence.
Following are some recommendations for support that pharma can offer to pharmacists:
- Reference: Education about and demonstration of the products pharmacists are dispensing. When are generic substitutes not considered equivalents?
- Collaborative: Tools to enhance dialogue with patients. What can be done to stay on treatment and improve wellness?
- Clinical: Information about disease states and new research. What new data is available?
If pharma can offer tools, services, references and information to help this important group of HCPs, pharmacists can provide a much-needed human connection for patients outside of doctors’ offices.