PharmD

Pharmacy provider status – Are we there yet?

The advancement of the pharmacy profession has allowed pharmacists to take on various roles and provide services that extend well beyond what people think. Often times, people think the role of a pharmacist may be assumed as the stereotypical 12-hour workday, consisting of only dispensing medications. However, pharmacists have gone to school for much more than to just dispense, and the magnitude of education and training received throughout school is pertinent to providing exceptional patient care throughout all types of pharmacy. As fellow pharmacists and pharmacy students, we all know too well that we have to go through a rigorous 4-year doctorate program. Pharmacists are now involved with advanced patient-centered services that include transitions of care, medication management, medication reviews with thorough monitoring, chronic disease management, disease education, prevention and wellness services, and patient education. To reinforce how essential they are, pharmacists have been amongst the frontline workers who have played a significant role in reducing the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The extent to which accessibility of a pharmacist in one’s community took national stage when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has authorized state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer, and state-licensed or registered pharmacy interns under the supervision of the pharmacist to administer, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to individuals ages 3 or older. Without the efforts of implementing mobile testing facilities, composing response plans, providing curbside delivery, compounding hand sanitizers, and educating the public on methods to prevent spread, the nation’s population may have been much more vulnerable to its virulence. Their highly talented skills, in addition to reasonable accessibility, allows pharmacist to be trusted amongst patients. In fact, pharmacists are rated among the top 5 most trusted professionals year after year by Gallup.

What is provider status?

According to the Social Security Act (SSA), obtaining provider status means pharmacists can participate in Medicare Part B programs and bill Medicare for services under their scope of practice. However, at this time, and despite all their expertise, pharmacists are omitted from this status as the federal government does not consider these health care professionals as medical providers. Currently, those with provider status are professionals employed as physicians, physician’s assistants, certified nurse practitioners, qualified psychologists, clinical social workers, certified nurse midwives, and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

While a large component of this battle surrounds pharmacists fighting to gain provider status under Medicare Part B, reimbursement from Part D also appears to be controversial. Although Medicare Part D reimburses pharmacies for providing medication therapy management to select patients, the program includes only a small set of services that pharmacists are capable of supplying.

What barriers hold pharmacists from reaching this level of authority?

  • Congress members deliberately direct their focus towards the nation’s spending and other issues, including immigration.
    • Due to financial pressures, those making decisions are more focused on reducing health care expenditure, rather than adding new spending costs.
  • Congress equates provider status with the “fee-for-service” (FFS) payment model.
    • FFS is a model in which payment is contingent to the quantity of care, over quality.
    • Legislators may be unwilling to pursue old payment reform as newer payment models evolve.
  • Health care professionals with provider status who bill Medicare through the fee-for-service payment model are in a position of strength, both politically and financially.
    • These individuals may oppose the pharmacy provider status initiative.

While these barriers may impede the ultimate goal of gaining provider status, the American Pharmacist Association (APhA) is taking initiative by contacting health care providers, consumer organizations, payers, and policy makers, all in an effort to educate on the health and economic benefits a pharmacist provides.

What does this mean?

“Provider status is shorthand for ensuring that patients can get access to the clinical services that pharmacists provide and that pharmacists get reimbursed for providing those services” noted vice president of policy for the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, Krystalyn K. Weaver, PharmD. Therefore, this exclusion limits Medicare beneficiaries from accessing pharmacist services.

Tom Menighan, EVP and CEO of APhA, also addressed this concern by stating: “Beyond being unfair to our profession, this lack of federal recognition restricts the contributions pharmacists can make to improving patient care.”

Why is this important?

There is an absolute need to improve health outcomes. In 2016, a released report revealed that the United States spends approximately $1.1 trillion annually on treatment for chronic health conditions, equivalent to almost 6% of the country’s GDP. Additional statistics include the following:

  • 1.5 million cases of preventable medication related side effects
  • $290 billion spent annually to treat preventable medication related side effects
  • $100 billion spent annually towards hospitalizations

Improvements in disease state management through proper medication use would not only go a long way in reducing these costs but will also advance patient quality of life in a cost-efficient manner. Who can serve this role and provide comprehensive education to help treat, manage, and prevent diseases? Pharmacists. All evidence through studies and practice-based experience has shown that pharmacists have all the tools to improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs; however, the absence of provider status and proper payment models have obstructed patients and health care providers from accessing full benefits received through pharmacist services. Provided below are opportunities that pharmacists have taken upon to increase health outcomes:

So, is now the time to gain provider status?

Amidst the ongoing global pandemic we face in today’s world, now is certainly the best time to gain full provider status. Currently, as of October 2020, there are only 37 states that have pharmacists classified as “medical providers” under the provisions of Medicare Part B, resulting in a lack of reimbursement for the clinical services provided. Being such an integral part of health care, pharmacists are well-equipped to take on much healthcare challenges, and COVID-19 is reassuring that certainty.

**October 2020 Legislation Update**

The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act (H.R. 592/ S. 109) is a bipartisan bill that will recognize pharmacists as providers under Medicare Part B. Furthermore, this bill will:

  • Allow Medicare beneficiaries to access the services provided by a pharmacist
  • Focus on providing pharmacist care and services to Medicare beneficiaries in medically underserved communities
  • Provide Medicare reimbursement for pharmacist services in medically underserved communities

Be a patron, support the cause, because now is the time to reward pharmacists for their purposeful work.

Best,

Sam Tamjidi

RxPharmacist Team

References:

  1. Gebhart, F. (2019, June 13). On the Road to Provider Status. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from https://www.drugtopics.com/view/road-provider-status
  2. Provider Status for Pharmacists. (2017, March). Retrieved October 10, 2020, from https://www.amcp.org/policy-advocacy/policy-advocacy-focus-areas/where-we-stand-position-statements/provider-status-for-pharmacists
  3. Provider status: What pharmacists need to know now. (2013, August). Retrieved October 07, 2020, from https://www.pharmacist.com/provider-status-what-pharmacists-need-know-now
  4. The Costs of Chronic Disease in the U.S. (2020, September 02). Retrieved October 07, 2020, from https://milkeninstitute.org/reports/costs-chronic-disease-us
  5. Weitzman, D. (2020, October 07). Provider Status for Pharmacists: It’s About Time. Retrieved October 08, 2020, from https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/provider-status-for-pharmacists-its-about-time

Review of new and unique pharmacy careers

It is undeniable that the role of a pharmacist has advanced from the traditional “pill counter” to trusted health care professionals who contribute to patient outcomes through extensive management of drug therapy. According to a published study by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the primary practice that PharmD graduates wish to pursue upon graduation is community pharmacy. To outline why this is relevant, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a decline in employment for pharmacists within a traditional retail environment, thus posing a threat to many who wish to follow this route (our full post entitled, “Pharmacist market saturation and career outlook“ can be found here). While all of this may be concerning, pharmacists are fortunately well-equipped with suitable skills that allow them to rise above orthodox practice and pursue nontraditional opportunities while maintaining impactful frontline care. Favorably, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has acknowledged this matter and launched its Practice Advancement Initiative (PAI), providing pharmacists with future practice models that may act as an option for those exploring alternative career paths. The campaign advocates for advancing the role of a pharmacist by establishing changes to current pharmacy resources, ultimately promoting career opportunities and patient care simultaneously.

While the number of PharmD graduates continue to increase and advancement of traditional pharmacy begins to slow, you may be asking yourself “what other roles can be filled by pharmacists?” This article will dive into more nontraditional and innovative roles that remain both unique and effective in our dynamic health care world today.

Non-traditional career opportunities:


TypeDescriptionWhere to find information
Nuclear Pharmacy  Nuclear pharmacists focus on the preparation, monitoring, drug information, storage, and handling of radioactive medications. In addition to this, pharmacists in this role provide quality control, patient safety, and counseling to those who require a more unique class of medications. The need for a pharmacist within a nuclear medicine team is impeccable as it allows for a boost in pharmaceutical care to patients.  National Association of Nuclear Pharmacies (NANP)
Specialty PharmacySpecialty medications are typically referred to as high cost medications that focus more on intricate disease states such as cancer, transplant, hepatitis, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. The prevalence of patients who require specialty medication is increasing, thus necessitating an increased demand for specialty pharmacists who can provide comprehensive care and close management.   Due to the increased complexity in the delivery of specialty pharmaceuticals, many health plans have established approaches to help with the obstacles associated with the distribution of these drugs to patients (classified as insourcing and outsourcing):

Insourcing: Staff are hired to manage the high demand and cost of these medications. These pharmacists are responsible for purchasing, handling, educating physicians and patients, and monitoring patient outcomes.

Outsourcing: Contracting with pharmacies that have established specialty pharmaceutical services to access its expertise, technologies, and resources.   Regardless of the approach a managed care organization wishes to pursue, both insourcing and outsourcing have identical requirements that include: Negotiating discounted pricesEmploying staff with specific expertise (with respect to administration, utilization, and monitoring of specialty medications)Accessing centralized distribution points for specialty pharmaceutical manufacturers  
Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP)
Veterinary Pharmacy  While veterinary pharmacy is not a new area of pharmacy practice, it is expected to expand each year and become classified as a more unique career opportunity. Veterinary pharmacists may establish a career with veterinary schools, pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, and a variety of regulatory agencies (including the FDA through the Center of Veterinary Medicine). An individual interested in working with animals may make this a suitable option; however, additional education and training through residency is required and opportunities are limited usually to academic institutions or professional organizations.  Veterinary Pharmacy Association
Compounding Pharmacy  What originally began as physicians taking on both the prescribing and compounding role of patient medication has now evolved to become the responsibility of a pharmacist since the late 19th century. At one point, during the early progression of the 20th century, the manufacturing of mass medications monopolized the service of compounding pharmacies. Today due to the increased need to formulate patient-specific drugs to tailor drug therapy, there appears to be a resurgence in the demand for compounding pharmacists. Compounding services allow pharmacists to prepare medications that target pain management, dermatology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and hormone replacement therapy.  Alliance for Compounding Pharmacy  

APhA   National Community Pharmacists Association
Toxicology  Pharmacists in this role can serve as toxicology specialists within poison control centers. In these centers, they facilitate patients who have ingested or otherwise have been exposed to medications or household chemicals. Pharmacists will direct patients to the proper course of action and will subsequently follow-up with them depending on the severity of the situation.  American Association of Poison Control Centers
   TelepharmacyTelepharmacy aims to meet the needs of today’s healthcare consumers through the use of telecommunication. The application of this tool covers a wide and diverse scope, including drug review and monitoring, dispensing, sterile and non-sterile compounding verification, medication therapy management, patient assessment, patient counseling, clinical consultation, outcomes assessment, decision support, effective drug information, and electronic prescription filling. Telepharmacy technology allows pharmacists to provide communication and remote care delivery. It significantly improves quality of patient care and medication process and safety by increasing accessibility and efficiency through reducing the need to travel. Especially during the ongoing pandemic, telepharmacy has established itself as an attractive tool to positively impact patient outcomes. Individuals who have been tested for COVID-19 could have a consultation with the pharmacist on the phone or video conferencing platforms such as Skype or zoom for follow-up care. Telepharmacy aims to improve U.S. economy and healthcare efficiency.  ASHP’s Statement on Telepharmacy  
2019 NIH Study on Telepharmacy
Regulatory Sciences  Pharmacists also play a huge role in regulatory drug and biologic development at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many pharmacists work at the FDA and if you are lucky, you may score a rotation site at the FDA to learn more what they do from drug labels, to drug reviews and ensuring regulations are met.  FDA Regulatory Fellowships  

Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS)  

While additional opportunities may require fellowship training, pharmacists can also be involved within the pharmaceutical industry and strive in research and development, quality assurance, marketing, and regulatory affairs. There are still many other pockets of careers we did not dive into such as medication therapy management (MTM), pharmaceutical industry, consulting, and data analytics, the PharmD degree is versatile and allows the flexibility of pharmacists to create their own unique careers outside the ‘box’ of retail and hospital pharmacy. As health care transforms, pharmacy roles will also grow, allowing pharmacists to take on new and unique roles.

Best of luck in your career searches!

Sam Tamjidi

RxPharmacist Team

References:

  1. 6 Things to Know About Telepharmacy During COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26 2020, from https://blog.cureatr.com/6-things-to-know-about-telepharmacy-during-covid-19
  2. ASHP Statement on Telepharmacy. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26 2020, from https://www.ashp.org/-/media/assets/pharmacy-informaticist/docs/sopit-bp-telepharmacy-statement.ashx
  3. Bai, S., Hertig, J. B., & Weber, R. J. (2016). Nontraditional Career Opportunities for Pharmacists. Hospital pharmacy, 51(11), 944–949. https://doi.org/10.1310/hpj5111-944
  4. Kramer, M.H. (2019, January 14). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/veterinary-pharmacist-125836
  5. Specialty Pharmaceuticals. (July 18, 2019). Retrieved September 27 2020, from https://www.amcp.org/about/managed-care-pharmacy-101/concepts-managed-care-pharmacy/specialty-pharmaceuticals
  6. What is compounding? (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020, from https://www.medisca.com/compounding/what-is-compounding
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