Express Scripts, Columbia study finds pharmacists taking greater role in patient care

Woman paying for a prescription at a pharmacy
A new study examines the more direct role pharmacists could play in patient care. (Getty/Tom Merton)

As the healthcare system faces significant labor challenges, a new report suggests pharmacists are well positioned to fill some of the critical gaps.

The analysis, conducted by Express Scripts and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, found that a majority of pharmacists see their roles transitioning to more direct patient care responsibilities over the next decade.

The researchers polled 3,000 patients, 1,000 pharmacists and 500 providers, including doctors and nurse practitioners, for the report.

More than half (53.3%) of surveyed pharmacists said they believe their training is enough to manage patients, though they did flag areas for continued education including chronic care management, diagnostics and prescribing.

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“While the role of pharmacists has been expanding in some areas of health care, the COVID pandemic has spotlighted their accessibility and the trust people have in them as health care professionals,” said Susan Peppers, vice president of Express Scripts Pharmacy, in a statement.

“Beyond dispensing prescription medications and providing medication advice, many of our 1,000 Express Scripts Pharmacy pharmacists are already specially trained in specific diseases allowing them to discuss disease and medication management directly with a patient as well as in conjunction with their health care provider team," Peppers said.

Pharmacists are also trusted members of the care team, the study found. Nearly 80% of patients surveyed said their pharmacist is integral to their care team, and 90% of physicians said they have a high level of trust in pharmacists to conduct their work.

Providers who collaborate often with pharmacists were more likely to trust them in providing more direct care to patients and in prescribing medications, according to the study.

One key area where pharmacists could play a key role, according to the study, is home care. Nearly half (49.7%) of those surveyed said receiving routine tests and visits in the home would be helpful. Home delivery pharmacists, for example, could slot into those roles.

The study found that more than half of home delivery pharmacists engage more with patients via telehealth, compared to 15% of retail pharmacists. More than a third of pharmacists who use telepharmacy said it provides more time to answer patients' questions and assist them.

“The results of the report are clear. Most people trust pharmacists to play a greater role in providing their care. As the shortage of doctors and nurses persists, and as complex new therapies and digital healthcare technology solutions are developed, the role of the pharmacist will continue to evolve,” said John McHugh, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in a statement.