With 6 out of 10 people living with chronic diseases, the need for integrated, high-quality care is greater than ever.1 As costs for managing these conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer has ballooned to over $1 trillion per year, healthcare providers are under increasing pressure to evolve chronic disease management in order to significantly improve health outcomes and reduce costs.2
For healthcare organizations looking to provide a more robust framework for treating chronic conditions, pharmacists and pharmacy services are an essential addition to the care team and overall strategy. But where do they come in? Beyond dispensing, pharmacists can provide value throughout the continuum of care, especially when managing patients with complex medical needs. Here are five ways pharmacists play a significant role in chronic disease management.
1. Pharmacists help fill gaps in care.
Including pharmacists as part of the clinical team provides a more comprehensive view into patient care. They can access electronic health records (EHR) to view patient history against their current medication regimens in order to identify patients who may benefit from pharmacist intervention. If information such as clinical context around patient diagnosis or prescriptions is missing, pharmacists can work directly with other members of the care team to understand patient medical history.
A specific gap pharmacists fill is in providing vaccines, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. In the chronic care model, they can also assist patients in scheduling preventative care appointments such as mammograms, screenings, and shots. Identifying these gaps allows the healthcare team to address them before they become greater problems.
2. Pharmacists are the medication experts.
Patients with chronic diseases often have complex medication regimens, especially if they have more than one illness. In a recent study, nearly 73.3% of patients with chronic disease were taking more than five prescription medications, and 74.6% showed one or two potential drug interactions.3
When it comes to medication management, pharmacists have the tools and expertise to not only provide medication reconciliation, but to give guidance that optimizes patient regimens. Pharmacists can take an in-depth look at patients’ full medication lists to identify changes that may be needed to reduce risk, whether it’s a change in dosage or time of administration, alternative medications, or identifying and preventing prescribing cascades, to name a few.
3. Pharmacists empower patients beyond adherence.
Pharmacists can help patients understand not only how to take their medications, but also why they are taking them. Many pharmacists are trained in managing specific disease states, so they can provide additional guidance, like how to manage glucose levels and lifestyle changes for patients with diabetes. Helping patients balance the right medications with the right outcomes and providing guidance that enables them to take charge of their health also empowers them to take an active role in their care, leading to increased patient satisfaction and improved quality of care.
4. Pharmacists help reduce downstream costs.
Addressing gaps in care, fostering medication adherence, desprescribing—all the reasons mentioned above—have significant impacts on downstream healthcare costs. The services that pharmacists provide contribute to efforts that help reduce and prevent high-cost episodes of care and hospitalizations, whether that is scheduling a screening or suggesting a change in medication therapy. Even the simplest services or alterations can substantially improve health outcomes, which—in turn—decreases utilization and reduces expenditures down the road.
5. Pharmacist collaboration improves quality care.
When providers work with pharmacists, they move a step closer to providing patients with an interdisciplinary healthcare team that works together to carry out their care plan. Gaps are filled and continuity of care improves, which can have a cascading impact on patient satisfaction and drive improved outcomes. Consequently, these results often foster a more collaborative relationship between providers and pharmacists too. And as a bonus, partnering with pharmacists benefits the pharmacist–patient relationship and helps patients understand how their pharmacists can help them beyond filling their prescriptions.
Chronic disease management is no simple feat, and the need for integrated care is progressively increasing as costs and conditions rise. With pharmacist support in caring for patients with complex conditions, cascading benefits tend to result: outcomes improve, costs go down, and—most importantly—quality care advances.
- CDC. Chronic Diseases in America. cdc.gov. 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm.
- Milken Institute. Milken Institute study: Chronic disease costs U.S. economy more than $1 trillion annually. Fightchronicdisease.org. https://www.fightchronicdisease.org/latest-news/milken-institute-study-chronic-disease-costs-us-economy-more-1-trillion-annually
- Muhammad FR, Rehman A, Khan I, et al. Assessment of risk factors associated with potential drug-drug interactions among patients suffering from chronic disorders. PLoS ONE. 24 Jan 2023;18(1):e0276277. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0276277.