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Industry is redefining its role in the health care community for a couple of reasons

Pharmacists see roles evolving as health care changes

Pill-counters.

This is the role most equate with the pharmacist’s profession. Aside from wearing a lab coat and giving advice on how much medicine to take, whether to take it at bedtime or with food and other pertinent information about drugs, most don’t see their pharmacist as a member of their health care team. The common conception — or misconception — is that pharmacists are those men and women behind the counter, whose names are unknown, who simply dispense medication.

Well, all of that may be changing soon.

The industry is redefining its role in the health care community for a couple of reasons. One, because while the general public may not realize it, people in health care know that pharmacists are highly-trained professionals who have vast expertise and experience that may be tapped into by them — to become a partner in their patients’ treatment. And two, the industry is facing new and dynamic changes that are forcing it to look at itself and its role in the new millennium.

“Education has progressed from a product dispensing role to a service dispensing role,” said Bo Dalton, executive director of the Mississippi Pharmacists Association (MPA), which has about 1,300 members here in Mississippi. “We’re looking to get involved more in the patient’s well-being. Pharmacists come out of school with a doctorate, and for the last 10 years in a row, pharmacists have been ranked the most trusted professionals by the Gallup Poll. We hope to use this to help prevent health problems on down the line for Mississippians.”

To this end the MPA has staked out some issues and goals for 1999 that it believes will help put the industry on firm footing and also make for a healthier Mississippi. And the hope is other states will look to Mississippi as a yardstick for success.

Ask your pharmacist

While Mississippi is no longer always last in everything, still it’s rather novel for the state to be a front runner, much less a proving ground, for anything. But that’s what the state’s pharmacists are hoping as the rest of nation’s eyes follow a new consulting service being introduced here.

The Health Care Financial Administration (HCFA) has chosen Mississippi as the first state to reimburse pharmacists for consulting services to Medicaid enrollees suffering from asthma, diabetes, coagulant and/or lipid disorders. The new program works this way: A physician maps out a care plan for the patient, then refers the patient to a credentialed pharmacist. The pharmacist provides collaborative services such as advising patients on their medication regimen and stressing the importance of follow-up visits to the individual’s physician. This consultation is to be offered in a private, intimate place in the pharmacy, and then a report of the visit is sent back to the referring physician.

The aim of the service is to get Mississippi’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists working as a team to help avoid more serious health problems possible for patient’s suffering with one or more of these four disease categories, which for the Mississippi business community means reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Suffer the big children

One source of pride in the Mississippi health care industry is child immunization. More than 90% of Mississippi’s children ages two years and younger are immunized. Now, leaders and professionals, in particular the Communicable Disease Center (CDC), are looking to improve immunization of adults, too. The issue is pressing since the fifth leading cause of death in the 65 and older category is pneumonia and influenza.

Many may not be aware that some druggists are trained immunization pharmacists, certified to give immunization treatment at the pharmacy. Dalton said about 120 Mississippi pharmacists are certified for immunizations under this CDC-based program.

A one-year education has been set aside to determine how Mississippi pharmacists, federally-qualified community centers and doctors and nurses may best extend the state’s success in immunization to the adult population. After the year has passed, an evaluation will be conducted to see if the initiative has merit.

Comfort for the dying

While pharmacists are focusing on making Mississippians healthier, they are also seeking to aid those whose days are nearing their end. Thus, the group has made a grant proposal to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) for improved end of life care in the state.

RWJF’s mission is to improve the health and health care of Americans from early childhood to end of life. Over its 25-year history, the foundation has doled out about $2.6 billion.

The grant would fund the proposed program which calls for close cooperation between doctors, nurses, hospitals, hospice organizations, skilled nursing homes and home health service providers. The elements of the proposal will be developed by these various groups.

About Wally Northway

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