The Ticking Clock

I attended my 25th pharmacy reunion this year and it seemed surreal to be celebrating 25 years of pharmacy practice.  Where has the time gone?? 

25 years doesn’t seem like so long ago, but the world has changed immensely in those years and it has caused me to think about whether we as pharmacists have kept up with the change.

When I graduated in 1994, there was no widely used public internet.  If we didn’t know something, we could not google it.  We had to look it up in a book, head to the library and search micro fiche, or call a drug company.  I had paper files for guideline updates and an overflowing paper copy of the CPS.  Information was not readily available nor easily accessed making it extremely valuable.  Consequently, pharmacists were valued for our ability to provide information to patients and colleagues regarding drug therapy.  Patients depended on us to give them information on their drugs, and physicians called us when they had a question.

Fast forward to today. We are now practicing in the information age.  Access to information is ubiquitous.  Being a source of information is no longer considered valuable as patients walk around with computers in their pockets and personalized drug information flows to them from many sources including third party insurance providers, APPs and websites.   Yet as pharmacists we have not really transformed pharmacy practice to keep up with what is valuable to today’s patients. 

Pharmacists are seen as providing a product plus information, because this is what patients experience when they walk through our doors.  The majority of Canadians interact with pharmacists when they are receiving a new medication; and we interact with them by providing information.  We call it counselling, but to the patient, it is information. 

Step into our patients’ shoes: how valuable are pharmacists to their quality of life?   What will keep patients coming into our pharmacies when they can receive their medications faster, cheaper and more conveniently by ordering them from their device and having it delivered to their door?  What will keep third party payers from requiring patients to only source prescriptions from these cheaper alternatives?

Pharmacists have an immense opportunity to demonstrate value to patients.  Study after study proves that we reduce health care costs and improve outcomes, but patients don’t seem to know this because they haven’t experienced it.  We practice reactively, responding to queries from patients or providing information when a product is dispensed.  What is needed is a shift to proactive engagement and assessment; an embracing of our role in chronic disease management.   Optimizing therapeutic outcomes and working with patients to improve drug therapy is what brings value.   

It takes proactive engagement because patients don’t know that they need us.  They don’t know if their blood pressure or blood glucose is at goal, that there are drug options that may optimize goals, have less side effects, are cheaper, or more convenient; that they could benefit from vascular risk reduction or that we can help them quit smoking.  I could go on and on about the immense opportunities for proactive intervention to improve a patient’s quality of life….but it takes a will to engage and renewed energy for patient care.  

The clock is ticking with innovative disruption rumbling in our near future.  We cannot allow negativity, financial pressures and government decisions to override the preservation of our profession, otherwise we may someday soon be hanging up our lab coats because it is too late.