Community pharmacy is part of the cure for an ailing healthcare system, says Dr. Marla Shapiro, host of CTV’s Dr. Marla & Friends and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. The physician and popular media personality addressed an audience of more than 150 supporters of the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy (CFP) at its annual Innovation Gala in late April.
“We need to move healthcare further upstream, so that it begins before people need to go to a doctor’s office,” Dr. Shapiro noted during her presentation entitled, Healthcare: Value vs. Cost. “Why can’t access to primary care be delivered in a community pharmacy setting?”
The notion of access used to be defined in terms of a person’s relationship with their physician, but physician shortages and busy lifestyles have changed consumers’ expectations. While the quality of care will always be an indicator of value, convenient access to services, from a range of providers, has become equally important and it’s a critical strategy for governments to get better value for their spending. “We can’t spend more; we have to spend better,” says Dr. Shapiro.
She cited flu shots, smoking cessation and adherence support as three areas where pharmacists can help close healthcare gaps. The immunization rate for seniors is well below target, for example, despite the fact that the flu shot is free. Now that pharmacists in some provinces can administer immunizations, seniors and other high-risk populations can and should simply walk into their pharmacy to get this important vaccination.
Improved collaboration between providers also needs to be addressed, Dr. Shapiro stressed in her presentation. Fortunately, new practice models, such as Ontario’s family health teams, are already showing promise. The challenge is to come up with more mainstream models that “work with pharmacies already out there.”
She urged members of the audience representing retail pharmacy, pharmaceutical manufacturers, academia, pharmacy benefits managers and distributors to do more together to find solutions. “The people sitting in this room are part of the transformational change. We have to collaborate across the continuum.”
The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) and Green Shield Ontario Hypertension Collaborative is one example of such collaboration. Representatives for OPA and Green Shield presented preliminary results based on six months of data, which already show that pharmacists’ interventions can lead to significant improvements in blood pressure due to improved adherence to therapy, including lifestyle changes. Final results will be available soon after data collection ends in late June.
Green Shield is currently paying additional fees to pharmacists participating in the study. Once the final results are in proving the value of pharmacists’ interventions, Green Shield will “make the case for plan sponsors to assume these costs,” says David Willows, vice-president of strategic market solutions at Green Shield. It’s part of the company’s overall plan to “find ways to get talented health providers to engage more proactively with plan sponsors.”
The OPA-Green Shield project received a $50,000 grant from CFP’s Innovation Fund in 2011.