By Lindsay Dymowski
In 2023, expect to see an expanding role for community pharmacies. The pandemic initiated a whirlwind of transition in our industry. Covid-19 transformed our businesses from places people dropped by to grab prescriptions, candy, cleaning supplies, and cosmetics into front-line testing sites. We set up contactless drive-throughs in our parking lots and Covid testing in refurbished storefronts. We brought on extra staff and vaccinated hundreds of people each day. When patients were too afraid of contracting the virus to enter hospitals and medical facilities, the healthcare system leaned on us to bridge the gap as intermediaries between doctors and their patients. We stepped in to provide the full scope of medical expertise and services.
Though the global lockdown is behind us, we continue to take a more active role in the care continuum at community pharmacies. The shift may feel revolutionary, but the truth is that pharmacies have historically been far more involved in patient care than we were in the years leading up to the lockdown. Since the 1980s, we have been relegated to counting pills. However, recent legislation allowing for provider status, test-and-treat programs, and point-of-care testing at a pharmacy by a pharmacist is restoring the healthcare-related role our industry once enjoyed.
Community pharmacies will be expanding their role in providing vaccinations during 2023
The CDC reports that we administered over 258.1 million vaccinations for the Covid-19 virus at community pharmacies before the summer of 2022. While those numbers are impressive, they only account for vaccines acquired through federal programs -- not those offered through state programs.
Since the lockdown, individuals have become more and more comfortable coming to community pharmacies for vaccinations. States and health departments are also making it increasingly easy for us to integrate with patients' health records and order vaccines. These factors combine to suggest we will see more people taking advantage of the convenience and accessibility pharmacies offer when they need vaccinations in 2023.
This shift is altering more than just the way we practice at community pharmacies. Many businesses are even changing the layout of their stores to incorporate vaccine clinics and private areas set aside for patient care.
Community pharmacies will be expanding their role in point-of-care testing during 2023
Just as we are expanding our role in offering vaccines at community pharmacies, expect to see us taking on more responsibilities in the area of point-of-care testing. States authorized us to provide these services to patients during the pandemic, and the public has become comfortable coming to us when they need accurate testing and healthcare information. In fact, according to a factsheet from the federal government, the number of pharmacies participating in the federal pharmacy free testing program has increased four times since the beginning of 2021.
Many of the parking-lot drive-throughs and refurbished storefront testing centers pharmacists assembled during the pandemic still operate today. People come regularly, and trained clinicians test for viruses, check cholesterol levels, and administer a variety of other wellness services. Just as pharmacies are remodeling to accommodate vaccinations, many are revamping their storefronts to offer convenient testing sites. In fact, a new model of community pharmacy is springing up around the country. These new clinics simply serve as point-of-care testing centers.
Community pharmacies will be expanding their role in preventative care during 2023
Patients and doctors are ready to entrust community pharmacists with the full scope of their practice. Collaborative agreements that allow pharmacists to perform specific preventative care actions under the oversight of a medical doctor are becoming more and more common. In these partnerships, patients lean on the convenience and accessibility of pharmacies for day-to-day care in tandem with annual visits to their healthcare provider. This new relationship is a win-win for everyone involved. It introduces a healthcare model that is far more accessible to patients and less burdensome financially to the country's healthcare system.
While this transition is exciting, it is not a new concept for us at community pharmacies. We have been performing these services for years without recognition in state-approved beta programs. In addition, these types of services are at the root of the work we do. Not long ago, people used to visit their pharmacist where the 'doc' behind the counter would provide a checkup and offer a prescription for whatever ailment patients presented. These programs take pharmacists back to their roots, allow them to use their white coats and doctorate degrees to the fullest, and create a more accessible and affordable healthcare system.
Lindsay Dymowski, President — Centennial Pharmacy Services