As pharmacists’ scope of practice continues to evolve to meet changing health-care needs, plan sponsors need to leverage these services to improve care and drive value, according to one expert.

“I truly think pharmacy services have great value. But there is a huge misunderstanding or even lack of awareness of what pharmacists can provide and pharmacists are very under-utilized,” said Priscilla Po, director of drug plan management and employer health solutions at Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw Companies Ltd., during a session at the 2018 Pharmacy Solutions in Drug Plan Management Forum in Mississauga, Ont. on Sept. 25.

Read: Pharmacy benefits managers to play growing role in boosting outcomes, addressing costs

As Po noted, a changing environment, including longer wait times to see a physician, concerns about drug affordability and drug plan design, has underscored the need for better care, much of which falls within the scope of a pharmacist. As such, there are a number of pharmacy services available to benefit plan members in terms of cost and convenience.

First of all, she explained, pharmacists on the front line are well-positioned to help patients navigate plan design, address any concerns about drug affordability or provide them with medication or disease management suggestions relating to a chronic health condition.

Pharmacists are also able to provide preventative services, such as travel consultations and vaccinations, often at a lower cost than attending a travel health clinic, and don’t require employees to take time off work, said Po. “My options are obvious. Going to the pharmacy is a lot easier, it’s convenient, I don’t need to take time away from work, it’s cheaper than going to the travel clinic.”

Read: Pharmacists’ role evolving to help plans manage costs

Pharmacists can also provide prescription renewal services for a small fee, which helps maintain adherence and manage health, said Po.

She shared the details of a recent study that looked at the impact of pharmacy point-of-care strep testing, which found that including pharmacist-assisted screening in the care model could reduce antibiotic prescriptions by 50 per cent compared to visiting a physician alone, with patients also experiencing indirect benefits such as reduced absenteeism and convenience. For an employer with 1,000 members, the average cost, said Po, would be $0.44 per person.

Indeed, she said, expanding pharmacy services coverage can be added to a benefits plan at a very low cost — often $10 per member per year for four major areas of pharmacy services.

“It is a small fraction of the cost when you’re looking at the overall pharmacy benefits landscape and yet, for specific pharmacy services benefits overall, in terms of the return on investment, for every dollar that we invest on this service, we can expect $1.40 in return,” said Po, referring to preliminary assessments.

Read: The costs, benefits of pharmacy services on private drug plans

When it comes to implementation, the preferred way forward is to cover pharmacy services through drug plan benefits, in order to take advantage of electronic adjudication, leverage analytics and apply controls to manage utilization and avoid misuse, she noted.

“We know that pharmacy services can provide early access to care and better service for the patient, so better health for the patient. We can help to ensure it’s a more cost-effective use of drugs, and definitely help to reduce negative health outcomes.

“From an employer perspective, it is really to lower the cost. It reduces presenteeism, reduces absenteeism, improves productivity, and it can prevent spending more on drugs or on disability, so it is really better value for benefits plan dollars.”

Read more articles from the 2018 Pharmacy Solutions in Drug Plan Management Forum

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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