Can physician-pharmacist teams improve care?

Pharmacists say they aren't interested in taking over as patients' primary care providers, but they do see themselves as a potentially bigger part of the healthcare team, according to a Kaiser Health News article.

"We are the most overeducated and underutilized healthcare professional in the U.S.," R. Pete Vanderveen, dean of the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, told KHN. "It doesn't take eight years of education and a professional doctorate to fill a bottle with pills."

This picture is beginning to change in some areas, with laws emerging in California, New Mexico and North Carolina that allow pharmacists broader clinical responsibilities, such as giving immunizations, helping patients manage medications and even adjusting and writing prescriptions after a doctor's diagnosis.

This movement is part of pharmacies' push to take on more patient care, according to KHN, which cited CVS Caremark's decision to stop selling tobacco products to help customers become healthier.

As with other scope-of-practice debates, not all physicians support pharmacists' expanded roles, the article noted. In particular, the American Medical Association supports physician-led teams that include pharmacists, but opposes giving them prescription privileges without a doctor's supervision. 

So far, research suggests that physician-pharmacist teamwork is a promising approach to improve outcomes and lower costs.

At Clinicare Pharmacy in Northridge, Calif., for example, Hanriet Minasian, M.D., works out of an office onsite one day per week. The physician has a deal with head pharmacist Diana Arouchanova that allows Arouchanova to order labs and to start, stop and adjust medications, according to KHN. As part of the system, both professionals refer patients to one another and together review their patients' charts.

"I don't have to worry about my pharmacist or my doctor not being on the same page," patient Erika Pappas told KHN. "Everything is very clear."

To learn more:
- read the KHN article