It’s American Pharmacist Month, so let’s celebrate that key member of the health care team.

Most Americans live quite close to a pharmacy, compared with peoples’ proximity to doctors, hospitals and emergency rooms.

The pharmacist is not only a trusted health professional in the eyes of consumers: he/she is a key influencer on peoples’ health.

And seeing as the #1 barrier to people taking prescription drugs is cost, the community-based pharmacist is in a prime position to educate, influence and motivate people to become more informed and activated health consumers.

CVS Caremark’s survey of pharmacists is discussed in the company’s September 27 2012 press release, Pharmacists Say Cost is Biggest Barrier to Medication Adherence.

62% of pharmacists told CVS that cost is the top barrier to patients adhering to prescription drug instructions by physicians. On the upside, 89% of pharmacists say that counseling patients is as important as filling prescriptions for them, and 88% of pharmacists believe that this counseling is likely to improve adherence to drug regimens.

Given that cost is a prime constraint on people filling scripts and taking their meds as instructed, most pharmacists note that cheaper alternatives increase adherence: in other words, health consumers welcome the option to fill their scripts with generic drugs when they’re available and appropriate substitutes for brand-name drugs.

CVS calculates that where generics are available, consumers could save $1.2 billion a year on their personal drug bills, and the health system at large could conserve $7.7 bn each year with generic substitution.

CVS shared additional details from the survey with Health Populi:

  • Pharmacists estimate that about 1 in 3 consumers decide not to fill a prescribed medication at least once due to cost
  • 88% of pharmacists agree that doctors should ask their patients if cost is an issue so they could better afford the medication
  • 45% of pharmacists believe that doctors aren’t aware of medication costs when writing prescriptions for their patients
  • 88% of pharmacists believe that if doctors and pharmacists communicate better around the needs of patients, that team could positively impact adherence.

CVS Caremark calls itself an “integrated pharmacy company” as it covers both a bricks and mortar pharmacy chain and a pharmacy benefits management company, along with a retail clinic chain.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Pharmacies are located in communities’ shopping centers, strip malls, grocery stores, main streets. They’re sited the way fast food joints analyze traffic patterns — where people live, work, play and pray, in convenient, accessible geographies.

That’s the physical access issue. On the medico-cultural aspect, pharmacists are trusted the way doctors are: as valued members of a patient’s health care team. This makes the role of the pharmacist a leverage-able asset for educating patients and bolstering adherence to prescription instructions. With a shortage of primary care physicians continuing over the next decade as more U.S. health citizens gain access to health insurance, pharmacists will play a growing role in expanding the definition of medical homes and being an integral component of the accountable care team in local communities.