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A reputation for honesty, trustworthiness

BY Jim Frederick

In the nation’s hierarchy of most-trusted professions, where does the community pharmacist stand? Near the very top of the list.

Again in 2015, pharmacists ranked second only to nurses among all professions in Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics survey. That makes the 13th year in a row that Americans have ranked pharmacists among the top three of all professions in terms of trustworthiness and ethical standards.

The annual poll was conducted Dec. 2 to 6, 2015, with a random sample of 824 adults, ages 18 years and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. More than two-thirds of all respondents gave pharmacists “very high/high” marks for honesty and ethical dealings, slightly ahead of medical doctors, high school teachers and police officers.

“Nurses, pharmacists, medical doctors and high school teachers remain untarnished at the top,” according to the Gallup poll.

“The survey results reflect the remarkable trust that patients continue to place in their pharmacists, and for strong and important reasons,” said National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steve Anderson. “Pharmacists are highly educated and highly accessible professionals. They are highly valued in neighborhoods across America, and particularly by those in the greatest need.”

In addition to the latest Gallup poll, “NACDS’ own opinion research shows another interesting finding: that those who have more first-hand experience with pharmacist-provided services feel even more strongly about their value,” Anderson added.

“These positive attitudes are translating into ever-stronger bipartisan support for pro-patient and pro-pharmacy initiatives in the U.S. Congress, as well as an expansion of the pharmacists’ scope of practice in the states,” added NACDS’ top executive.

Endorsing pharmacists as healthcare providers

“The positive, reverberating news about pharmacists marks a great beginning of the year for pharmacists, and gives well-deserved credit for the essential and expanding part they play as trusted healthcare providers, bridging gaps to care for the patients who need it most,” NACDS reported. “The professional validation comes at a time when pharmacists are positioned extraordinarily well to fill gaps in patient access to care.”

Indeed, national opinion surveys conducted on behalf of the pharmacy organization show that a large majority of Americans strongly embrace pharmacists’ expanding role as healthcare providers for a wide array of walk-in services.

The most recent such poll, conducted via the Internet among 1,000 informed likely voters in late July 2015, asked respondents whether they thought a pharmacy should be allowed to offer several types of health services, and whether they would seek out those services within a pharmacy. The results were eye-opening: 83% of respondents view pharmacies as appropriate settings for basic health services, and nearly 8-in-10 voters see them as a source for vaccinations and immunizations. More than 7-in-10 of those polled support the use of pharmacy-based primary healthcare clinics.

“There continues to be overwhelming support for allowing pharmacies to offer … new healthcare services, with notable increases since 2013,” according to the polling organization, Public Opinion Strategies.

A separate poll last year also showed strong support among Americans for legislation that would give pharmacists full status as healthcare providers, with 82% of those surveyed expressing support for provider status legislation.

To see the full report, click here.

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Pharmacies emerge as centers for health screenings

BY Jim Frederick

One of the most promising recent developments in the nation’s search for a more accessible and cost-effective healthcare system has been the rapid rise of health events and free testing services at chain and independent pharmacies. The events have boomed in popularity over the past few years, to the benefit of millions of Americans.

These “non-traditional mechanisms to engage patients,” said Alex Hurd, senior director product development, growth and payer innovation at Walmart health and wellness, are helping hundreds of thousands of Americans spot potentially dangerous conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure early.

“Knowledge is the first step in your personal journey to health improvement, and you can’t take action unless you know that you have issues,” Hurd pointed out. “It’s about early … detection and prevention, and providing access points for health services for millions of Americans who normally don’t engage with the system, either because they lack health insurance, lack the time or simply because they don’t go."

“We’ve heard hundreds of stories of customers who sought out medical professionals [after being screened],” he added. “And from a public health perspective, if you look at the sheer amount of traffic we see, [with] 140 million customers every week … it just makes sense.”

Indeed, the positive impact that these health screenings are clearly having on population health are spurring companies like Walmart to expand the scope and frequency of the events. “They’re not just important for Walmart; I think they’re critical to the health of our country,” Hurd asserted. “They represent one of the most exciting trends in health care in the last decade, and one of the simplest mechanisms out there for spreading massive health awareness. I am absolutely convinced that these types of community-based health programs will play a key role in creating a more sustainable health system for our country.”

Added a spokesman for Walgreens, “the main focus … is to bring needed healthcare services to where people live and work. The response has been extremely positive at events within our stores, as well as those we host within the community.”

Here’s a look at what just a few pharmacy chains are doing:

•  Between October 2015 and January 2016, CVS Health hosted nearly 750 Project Health events at select stores in 20 markets, “delivering more than $10 million worth of free health services to multicultural communities with a significant number of uninsured or underinsured individuals across the United States,” said David Casey, the company’s VP of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer. ”Since 2006, Project Health has delivered more than $80 million worth of free healthcare services to more than 845,000 people,” Casey added.

•  Walgreens hosts or participates in a variety of health events throughout the year, often in partnership with other national or local community health providers — and even with the federal government. “When appropriate, and as often as we can, we utilize our own providers for health events,” a Walgreens spokesperson explained.

•  Rite Aid rotates monthly health fairs through many of its more than 4,200 stores, offering screenings for conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and skin diseases, as well as counseling on healthy eating, heart health and smoking cessation. The chain also sponsors mobile screenings with specially equipped buses, staffed by physicians and nurses, that will park at store locations to offer free tests for skin conditions and diabetes, as well as free annual wellness screenings for patients age 65 years old and older.

•  Costco Wholesale’s pharmacy team organizes hundreds of individual store health events each year, offering free screenings for osteoporosis, heart and lung health and, most recently, diabetes.

To see the full report, click here.

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Open for business: Pharmacies respond to emergency

BY Jim Frederick

When Hurricane Sandy flooded the streets of big cities and beachside communities on the East Coast, when Winter Storm Jonas dumped several feet of snow on cities up and down the eastern seaboard, when tornadoes devastated towns in Texas and Oklahoma, and when floods in the Midwest turned streets into waterways, local pharmacies and national pharmacy retailers were among the first responders.

Retail pharmacies play an important role in disaster and emergency situations, often acting to provide first response aid for people needing food, water, medical supplies and healthcare services.

In recent years, the integrated efforts of the retail pharmacy community have led to an increased ability to react quickly and dedicate targeted aid during emergency situations.

“For our part, community pharmacies are a valuable emergency response resource for reaching the public with essential medications and vaccines,” said Kathleen Jaeger, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ SVP of pharmacy care and patient advocacy. “Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to reach broad segments of a community, especially since 93% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy.”

Examples abound. Jaeger noted in an emergency preparedness forum sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, “During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, pharmacists improved the capacity and reach of the public health system by administering more than 5 million doses of H1N1 vaccine in a matter of weeks. The partnership between pharmacy and the public health community that formed during this outbreak provided a foundation to strengthen and expand connections between public health entities and community pharmacies, and recognize the extensive reach and capacity of pharmacies as a vital component of emergency response.”

“As we have witnessed from forest fires to hurricanes to broad pandemics,” she added, “pharmacies play an essential role as a trusted access point for care and are committed to working … to build a stronger healthcare preparedness system.”

To that end, when natural disasters and public health emergencies occur, pharmacies work diligently to provide continued access to medicine for patients during times of crisis.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, CVS Health partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.Y.C. Department of Health and Hygiene to waive co-payment deductibles for New York residents affected by the storm.

Rx Response, set up by PhRMA in 2006, is dedicated to protecting patients’ continued access to medicine during times of crisis. This charitable organization features an integrated network of pharmacy chains that can provide real-time information to help people find open pharmacies during emergency situations, so they can continue to fill needed prescriptions. In 2015, Rx Response changed its name to Healthcare Ready to reflect its coordination of the broader healthcare system and the public sector during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disease pandemics and other emergency situations.

In a recent response to Winter Storm Jonas, Healthcare Ready activated its Rx Open online resource tool to provide information on open pharmacies in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Apart from making major investments in relief efforts, retail pharmacy chains are establishing policies that will allow for maximized aid during times of crisis.

Walmart, with more than 4,500 pharmacies, has been operating an Emergency Operations Center at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., since the early 2000s. This facility is staffed with an in-house meteorologist who monitors weather patterns and a team of dedicated associates trained to respond to disaster situations.

Last year, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation invested more than $1.5 million, according to a company source, to “strengthen technological infrastructure for disaster response and resiliency, build capacity to facilitate skills-based volunteerism during disasters, and convene leaders in disaster relief to share best practices.”

CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and other retailers have responded to disasters in part by setting up mobile pharmacy trailers in affected communities to fill prescriptions and offer essential supplies. Most recently, CVS Health, Walmart and other retail drug chains have rallied support for the Flint, Mich., community through donations, education and online services.

In addition, point-of-care facilities within retail pharmacies, such as Kroger’s The Little Clinics, CVS Health’s MinuteClinics or Walgreens Boot Alliance’s Healthcare Clinics, are staffed by nurse practitioners who can provide much needed healthcare services during times of crisis. Those services can range from administering tetanus shots to dressing wounds. Retail clinics also can staff storm shelters with nurse practitioners from their in-store clinics to provide healthcare services during disaster situations.

To see the full report, click here.

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