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The National Vaccine Plan: Expanding Pharmacy Roles

  • May 31, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

Improving the health care system to lower costs and make health care more accessible has been a topic of discussion in the U.S. for decades. One objection to President Obama’s health care bill was the fear that there would not be enough doctors to cover the additional patients and services. Fortunately, pharmacies were already in place to help fill the gap by providing services beyond traditional roles.

In March, the HHS committed $750 million to the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the healthcare bill, followed by a National Vaccine Plan that highlights the expanding role of pharmacies as community immunization centers.

The participation of major chains like Walgreens, CVS, and Wal-Mart has already made a difference in the cost of health care. With Wal-Mart leading the way and other pharmacies quickly following suit, low cost prescription programs have made thousands of commonly prescribed generic medications affordable. Other services, such as blood pressure testing, diabetes screening and education have become more accessible through expanded pharmacy services, so the move into vaccination services makes perfect sense.

Pharmacy customers already turn to pharmacists for information and advice. The trust relationship is already in place. Pharmacists are far more accessible than doctors, and in most cases are willing and available to discuss conditions, reactions, medications, and local health threats, in some cases 24 hours a day…and without an appointment. Pharmacists who stay on top of the profession and health trends have the knowledge, skill and the time to assist in consumer health care and identify potential health issues, including drug reactions and interactions, making pharmacists a valuable member of the health care team.

Since some insurance plans refuse immunization coverage, low-cost vaccines offered by pharmacies serve an additional purpose, lowering the cost of crucial preventative care. Clients who cannot afford to visit a doctor for a flu shot can walk in to a drug store any time of day and get immunized at reduced cost without the hassle and expense of a doctor visit. In terms of reducing the cost of health care, this is pure gold. Low cost preventative measures available to everyone, from someone they trust, without an appointment? Yes, please!

But what about the impact on pharmacies? Will an increase in low-cost services be worth the traffic generated? For stores that answer other needs, including groceries and photo services, the answer is probably yes. For independent pharmacies, maybe not. The answer to that probably lies in location and community involvement. What do you think? More work for you, or a significant contribution to health care salvation? Will the additional traffic help sales and boost the bottom line, or represent an unjustified additional labor cost?

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