Pharmacists Play a Pivotal Role in Hybrid Medicine’s Future

Pharmacists Will Play a Pivotal Role in The Future of Hybrid Medicine. This Is Great News.

We all recognize that hybrid medicine – where telehealth and in-person care play different, but equally important, roles – is the future of medicine. But most of the discussion so far has centered on the obvious: the role of the clinician and how that might need to adapt to suit this new pandemic-instigated paradigm.

That’s with good reason. It’s clear that to best serve patients, physicians must be dialed in to handle only that work which they’re uniquely qualified to do based on their education, experience, and licensing. Care team members – aptly named ‘physician extenders’ – can support patients with a continuum of care that ensures a high degree of personalization, communication and improvement in outcomes.

We tend to think of those care team members as nurses and nurse practitioners, PAs, dieticians, specialists, and counselors but the discussion overlooks a critical team member, one whose role is evolving and vital: the pharmacist.

Many patients probably consider pharmacists in a very transactional way: they’re sick, they head to the pharmacy, wait their turn, and get a pill bottle in a white bag with a slip. One and done. Over and out.

But just as hybrid medicine is changing how we think about, and interact with, our care teams, the evolution of medicine is also changing how we view the pharmacist’s role. Pharmacists can move beyond a straightforward pills-and-pay model and into a more community-centered role, where they support patients in both a behind-the-scenes and front-of-house way. After all, who better to review histories and charts to see if medications conflict than the pharmacist? Who answers a patient’s anxious questions following that doctor’s visit? The pharmacist. After all, it’s often much easier – and less intimidating – to get in front of a pharmacist. All you have to do is walk into a drugstore.

So why shouldn’t this expert – who already enjoys a high degree of trust – act as a physician extender? They can provide careful counsel on everything from trying generics to structuring a multiple-medication regimen that ensures the right dose at the right time every time. Pharmacists can even be a source of support for behavior change, recommending – for example – exercise and nutrition to supplement medication required for chronic conditions like diabetes.

Encouragingly, this kind of pharmacist model is already very much alive and well – take the Medication Therapy Management (MTM) approach as proof. As others have noted, in addition to flagging redundant drugs or similar options to what a patient is currently taking, pharmacists practicing MTM “can provide a link between prescribers and patients…by engaging with patients in discussions regarding proper use of medications, the importance of medication adherence, and identification of high-risk medications.” The genius of this more holistic model also lies in its ability to be both virtual and in-person – which ensures its perfect fit and staying power for the world of hybrid medicine. 

It’s also a reason why we’re also seeing the proliferation of smart companies built for this new era. Companies like Walrus Health, for example, are setting the standard by bringing the community pharmacist model to digital spaces, obviating the need for a bricks-and-mortar-only model. They’re partnering with companies to offer employees pharmacy benefits advisors who advise on more affordable, yet effective, medication options – and connect them with online pharmacists for questions, counsel and reassurance. Much like we’ve become uber comfortable with seeing our doctors and care team members on a screen or interacting with them via chat or text, the option for virtual pharmacists will be the next big wave in hybrid healthcare.

Patients and providers alike should welcome this evolution as pharmacists are an integral part of care management. It’s only logical to see their roles expand, both in the ways they interact with and support patients and how they offer that care: in person and, increasingly, in digital.

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