Pharmacists Are Essential to Rural Access to Healthcare

Pharmacists Are Essential to Rural Access to Healthcare
Pharmacists Are Essential to Rural Access to Healthcare

The state of healthcare in America may be best described as uncertain. Nearly every news report points to burnout as a significant factor causing healthcare professionals to leave their field. According to a 2021 study1 in 5 physicians and 2 in 5 nurses intended to leave their practice within two years. As a result, health systems budget woes are compounded as they spend money to retain staff and others are cutting services or operating at lower capacity.

In rural areas, the consequences of a dwindling workforce are even more dire with 30% of all rural hospitals at immediate risk of shutting down.

It’s going to take an all-of-the above approach to effectively restore confidence in our healthcare system across the country. Technology that empowers care teams and better utilizes the clinical expertise of our community pharmacists is central to ensuring patients have access to healthcare – no matter where they live.

Rural communities are care deserts

Rural areas are faced with a particularly worrisome convergence of challenges. A larger proportion of older adults live in rural areas than urban areas, and the proportion of older adults in suburban and rural areas is projected to increase in the coming decades. In addition, more than a quarter of U.S. adults face multiple common chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension.

Add to the equation that while 15% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, less than 10% of physicians practice in these communities.

This means patients with chronic diseases are either driving significant distances to access healthcare or are sadly foregoing care altogether.

Tapping into community pharmacy can bring water to these rural healthcare deserts. Studies show that nine in ten Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy and high-risk patients visited their community pharmacy an average of 35 times per year, compared to four visits to their primary care provider and nine visits to specialists.

It makes sense that pharmacists today, half of which are doctors of pharmacybe part of the all-of-the above solution.

As many challenges surfaced during the pandemic, healthcare found solutions

Pharmacists have been filling clinical roles, delivering patient care – including limited testing, prescribing and administering vaccinations–across the country, since the Covid-19 public health emergency began three years ago. The need to continue serving communities in a clinically focused capacity has not changed and in one survey 77% of patients believe that pharmacists are an integral member of the care team.

Pharmacists have garnered patient trust and have the credentials to do more than fill prescriptions: they can counsel patients and help manage diseases like diabetes and hypertension – providing patient care is the reason why most providers go into healthcare in the first place.

Laying the technology groundwork to strengthen care teams

Tackling the administrative burdens causing healthcare professionals to leave their practice in droves is a job for technology and advancing healthcare interoperability. And the healthcare technology industry isn’t waiting to address clinician burnout or for policy changes to permanently empower pharmacists to fill gaps in patient access to care in rural communities.

Today’s health technology simplifies how physicians and pharmacists communicate and evolve as a care team to serve their patients. When clinicians have access to the right clinical patient information at the right time, like patient-specific prescription cost information at the point of prescribing, physicians can optimize medication affordability or avoid prior authorization barriers. Creating these efficiencies can help curb clinician burnout and lead to improved patient care.

Advancing health technology can also improve medication adherence and health outcomes. Surescripts’ Scott Rochowiak wrote this in a recent MedCity News contributed piece“If there’s a patient who is relying on public transit or lives in a very rural area, and they go to the pharmacy only to hear ‘Oh, your prescription needs a prior authorization and is going to take two or three days,’ that can really be a burden on that patient. Some patients will abandon therapy at that point.”

Improving this technology is how we continue enabling pharmacists and physicians to do what they do best—provide comprehensive, better-informed care for their patients—no matter where they live.

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