Pharmacists increasingly helping patients to stay on track

Roughly $300 billion is spent each year on emergency and hospital care for patients who don't take their medications as prescribed. To help keep those patients on the right track, more pharmacies throughout the nation are offering services that some say could be as effective as a doctor's visit, reports the New York Times.

Walgreens, the Medicine Shoppe and Kroger are just some of the chains involved with such programs to varying degrees. At those three businesses, according to the Times, pharmacists work with doctors and nurses to make sure such patients are correctly taking their medicine. Some insurance companies are jumping on board as well, paying pharmacists to keep on patients--particularly ones with chronic illnesses--about their everyday lifestyle habits, which include medical use.

Dr. Andrew Halpert, senior medical director for Blue Shield of California, believes that in some scenarios, pharmacists aiding patients could be just as effective as a doctor's visit, without the high cost. Blue Shield recently started a pilot program where pharmacists at local grocery-store chain Raley's advise diabetic patients insured via the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS). "We're going to need to get creative," he told the Times.

Humana (NYSE: HUM) also pays for such services, with nearly one-third of the 62,000 pharmacies in its network helping to counsel patients. What's more, a study from May 2009 funded by GlaxoSmithKline and published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found that patients who participated in such a program not only improved their health, but also saved a lot of money, as well.

Regardless, some doctors, like Lori J. Heim, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, cautions against patients not going to the doctor altogether in lieu of the pharmacist, emphasizing that both need to maintain prominent roles in the lives of patients.

"I'm concerned that people are thinking about this in terms of 'either,' and that's the wrong approach," she told the newspaper.

To learn more:
- here's the New York Times article