LAS VEGAS—A new analysis finds that more pharmacists are electronically prescribing medications as they assist in managing chronic disease, which offers a peek at the next evolution in primary care.
The study, backed by health information network Surescripts, found that the number of prescribers in its network that were not traditional primary care providers grew by 12.1% on average each year between 2018 and 2022, while the number of clinicians who often provide primary care grew by less than 1%.
At the same time, providers of all kinds are concerned about the significant dearth in primary care. A recent survey shows that 73% of prescribers and half of pharmacists expressed worry about the number of primary care providers in their area, and, in rural regions, that jumps to 81% and 62%, respectively.
Lynne Nowak, M.D., Surescripts' first chief data and analytics officer, told Fierce Healthcare in an interview at HLTH the findings highlight the potential pharmacists and other clinicians have in addressing those access gaps.
"We're not saying that pharmacists should be doing the job of a physician," Nowak said. "They're not trying to replace them, but just looking at this broader view of a care team and making sure they're all connected."
Overall, Surescripts found that the number of e-prescriptions submitted by pharmacists grew by 47% between 2019 and 2022, particularly for drugs that treat chronic conditions. Total electronic prescriptions for diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension increased by 3.6% in that window, while the number of e-prescriptions in those categories submitted by traditional primary care providers decreased by 3.5% on average annually.
In addition, Surescripts noted that a recent survey found 89% of prescribers and 97% of pharmacists support a push toward more team-based care. That survey also found that 41% of prescribers believe it is important for pharmacists to also have the ability to issue prescriptions.
Nowak said the case for including pharmacists in chronic condition management is pretty clear, as patients visit the pharmacy far more frequently and may not be able to make—or secure—routine visits to the office. Leaning on clinicians like pharmacists could also hold the key to addressing physician burnout, freeing them up to focus on providing the care that's most critical to their patients.
However, significant barriers to reimbursement remain a major challenge to ensuring pharmacists can practice at the top of their licenses, she said.
Tech companies like Surescripts can play a key role, though, in bridging gaps between traditional providers and pharmacists, making it easier to enable that team-based approach.
"We have technology that can help connect them so that if you go to get treated at a pharmacy that information was then shared back your primary care provider," she said.