Challenges Ahead in the Pharmacy Field
Despite all the progress made in the pharmacy field – especially in recent decades – there are still challenges to address. For example, how can pharmacists better help patients follow doctors’ orders when it comes to taking prescription medication? What can they do to help improve health literacy so that Americans can make the best health decisions? How can policymakers play a role in ensuring there are enough pharmacists available for every community? If exploring these issues sounds intriguing, then you may want to consider how pharmacy may be the career for you!
Non-Adherence to Medications
Did you know that almost three out of every four Americans do not take their medication appropriately? This critical statistic plays a role contributing to about 125,000 deaths each year. The health care field uses a special name for properly following a prescription: adherence. Medication adherence means that patients take their medicines as prescribed. The lack of adherence, or non-adherence, is a significant problem in the U.S. Health complications that result from low levels of adherence, which not only put patients at risk for harming their health, but also cost the country an estimated $100 billion each year in treatment and care costs.
Fortunately, pharmacists can play an important role in increasing adherence. One study showed that visits from a pharmacist considerably improved adherence among elderly patients. Other researchers have pointed to pharmaceutical counseling, which improved proper medication use by nearly 50 percent in some cases. In recent decades, the pharmacy field has been recognized for playing a significant role in increasing adherence by developing new tools and techniques to encourage patients to follow directions for prescription usage. In fact, the most recommended method to increase adherence is to strengthen the patient-pharmacist relationship. Therefore, it is important that pharmaceutical professionals have good communication skills and enjoy working with people.
Inadequate Health Literacy
Almost 90 percent of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information provided by health care facilities and other educational resources. For these individuals, understanding health prevention, care and treatment can be very difficult, and may mean that they skip doctors’ visits, use medications incorrectly or do not know how to manage their own health, particularly if they have chronic or long-term health issues such as diabetes.
Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand basic health information needed to make good and appropriate health care decisions, such as when to visit a doctor and how to follow the directions on a prescription. Individuals who are not adequately health literate are more likely to be hospitalized or take their medication improperly. In the U.S., inadequate health literacy impacts the whole population, but minority groups and low-income populations are more significantly affected. These groups already have more limited access to health resources, and poor health literacy can make the situation worse.
Pharmacists, along with other health care professionals, can play an important role in helping to address health literacy challenges by providing clear and easy to understand health information and guidance. As a primary link between physicians and patients, pharmacists can also play an important role in communicating culturally-relevant information to patients from different backgrounds.
Pharmacist Shortages in Rural America
Sixty-five percent of Americans in rural communities do not have enough health care professionals, including pharmacists. The lack of pharmaceutical services increases rural residents’ dependence on public assistance programs and requires them to travel further distances to receive health care services. About 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but only 12 percent of the country’s pharmacists serve this population – resulting in a significant number of demands that are not met. Since there are so few pharmacists in these rural areas, numerous patients turn to hospitals (many of which are understaffed) for their pharmacy-related needs. While the rest of the country continues to decrease the gap between pharmacist supply and demand, rural areas are still lagging behind. In an effort to attract more pharmacists, some states have established loan forgiveness programs for professionals serving rural communities. These programs give pharmacists money to pay off any debt from their schooling in addition to the salary they earn, which can be a very appealing offer to recent pharmacy graduates looking to make an impact on local communities.