By: Jeremy Mesias, PharmD Candidate c/o 2022
As we begin another October, we mark the start of American Pharmacist Month and celebrate pharmacists and their work around the country. We are also reminded of the great leaps and bounds our profession has made over the years to advance patient care. Behind all great progress, though, are movements of people uniting to call for change. The pharmacist faces a unique role as the nation’s most accessible health care provider yet remains the most underutilized professional on the healthcare team. National movements are currently underway in addition to statewide initiatives to push for pharmacists to get “provider status” and be able to serve our patients to the best of our ability. Student pharmacists are integral in pushing for change on federal, state, and local levels, as they have done so for so many movements that came before.
Provider status allows for medical professionals to bill patients and insurances for services provided underneath the Medicare Part B of the Social Security Act. Attaining provider status would also ensure that patients are able to receive the full array of clinical services that pharmacists are allowed to provide under their state’s scope of practice. ¹ Currently, they are one of the few healthcare practitioners that lack recognition as healthcare providers under federal law. Nearly all other healthcare professional services are rightly covered under the Social Security Act, including services provided by midwives, chiropractors, and dieticians, but not services rendered by pharmacists.. ²,³ Over the past 50 years, our profession has made the evolution from purely a dispensing role to being an integral part of the healthcare team and patient-centered medical home.³ It is beyond time for this movement.
The COVID-19 pandemic further illustrated how pharmacists are able to play a much larger role in addressing public health concerns if given an expanded scope of practice. In May, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mobilized pharmacists in the fight against the Coronavirus and launched a COVID-19 testing program in independent pharmacies across the state. ⁴ The data collected from these pharmacies allowed for New York to go from the state with the highest infection rate to the lowest in a matter of weeks. Pharmacists have six to eight years of higher education, hands-on training, and clinical expertise. Many pharmacists pursue post graduate training to further enhance their knowledge and develop their skills. Studies consistently show that our services directly correlate to improved health outcomes, higher quality of care and reduced costs. ³ Should we get provider status, we will be able to further address gaps in the need of public health as well as continue to improve patients’ quality of life. This movement begins with advocacy.
On the national front, the American Pharmacist Association (APhA) currently leads the push for federal pharmacist provider status through their campaign, Pharmacists Provide Care. This initiative seeks to educate the public on why pharmacists should be given provider status, arguing that, “they are a major player in today’s healthcare arena. They are providers in every sense of the meaning—save the official title.” ⁵ APhA is calling on Congress to pass a bill that would, “amend section 1861(s)(2) of the Social Security Act to enable Medicare beneﬁciaries to access pharmacist-provided services under Medicare Part B.” ⁵ If passed, pharmacists in all 50 states would gain provider status and be able to use the full array of their abilities to improve patient care. ²,⁵
The states are pushing their own initiatives. In New York State alone, a number of different organizations are advocating for change in the way that pharmacists practice and allowing student pharmacists to play in active role in each step of the process. Each year, the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY) goes up the steps of the Albany capitol building to meet with state representatives and discuss policy proposals. Divided into two days, the first is for Independent Pharmacists and Pharmacy Owners to lobby for our current legislative agenda. The second day is designed to educate student pharmacists on the legislative process and continue the lobbying efforts to advance our scope of practice. Both pharmacists, along with student pharmacists, are highly encouraged to tag along and play an active role in shaping the laws that determine how we practice.⁶ Another organization that works tirelessly to optimize the role of pharmacists is the New York State Council of Health-System Pharmacists (NYSCHP). In 2017, they established the Grassroots Advocacy Committee (GAC) to provide pharmacists, student pharmacists, and their constituents a tangible way to bring awareness and advocate for our profession. ⁷ In addition to their Advocacy Week, which focuses on legislative visits in Albany, the GAC educates members on health-system pharmacy legislative priorities, helps members set up local meetings with their state legislators, and assists members in responding to legislators’ questions. ⁸ It essentially provides its members with the resources and tools to call for change in their own communities and then act upon it.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice (CAP) is the newest addition to the field of advocacy in NYS. Established as a grassroots movement during the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a group of volunteer pharmacists and pharmacy students from all backgrounds and areas of pharmacy practice came together to address the hardships patients that were brought on by the novel coronavirus. Thus, The Coalition was formed. Their goal is to find ways for pharmacists in New York to work collaboratively with our health care colleagues to optimize patient care. The idea of a team-based approach to healthcare is central to the movement. CAP aims to educate patients, members of the healthcare team, and the general public on the usefulness of the pharmacist and show them what they can bring to the table in terms of contributing to the public health efforts around the pandemic and beyond, enhance patient access to care, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. ⁹
In celebration of American Pharmacists Month, CAP kicked off a social media campaign titled, “Bring Your Own Person 2020” (BYOP) to diversify the face of pharmacy and highlight a pharmacist’s impact through another person’s narrative. The campaign aims to unite our profession through our collective voice, as well as bringing our own “people” into the fold. Our “people” can include anyone whose life has been positively influenced by a pharmacist or anyone who has seen the pharmacist hard at work and can speak to the value they can bring to the team. You can get directly involved by sharing your story through a picture, video, poster, or anything else highlighting your experience with a pharmacist on Instagram or Twitter using the #BYOP2020 and #NY hashtags. With a goal of thirty thousand posts in thirty days (signifying the number of days in October), take the extra time to share your story to thank a pharmacist who has helped you and be a part of the campaign today! ¹⁰
All this begs the question, “how can we, as pharmacy students get more involved and advocate for the future of our profession?” It’s important to remember that all politics are local. Start at home and bring it up in conversation with your family and friends and explain to them the many roles that pharmacists take on beyond the traditional view of only pill counters. Pharmacists can do so much more besides that; they are able to immunize, help manage chronic disease states, ensure medication is working optimally, and the list goes on. After that, join an organization that continues to advocate for positive and meaningful change in the profession. Play an active part in shaping your future by educating yourselves on the different initiatives that organizations are fighting for. Talk to your local legislator and ask for their support on a piece of legislation that would advance our cause. As a student pharmacist, the opportunities to advocate for our profession are limitless.
As the landscape of pharmacy continues to evolve, one thing remains constant: our commitment to advancing patient care and pharmacy practice. By getting involved in advocacy efforts, student pharmacists are able to have their voice heard and directly impact the future of their profession. The advancements made from previous movements, such as most recently helping to grant pharmacy interns the ability to immunize patients in New York State, has shown that student pharmacists are able to play an active and meaningful role as advocates. Whether it is lending a hand to grassroot groups or through writing a letter to your local politician, there is an opportunity for everyone to get involved in the movement and become an agent for positive change.
- Gebhart F. On the Road to Provider Status. Drug Topics. https://www.drugtopics.com/view/road-provider-status. Published 06/13/2019.
- American Pharmacist Association. Pharmacists Provide Care. https://pharmacistsprovidecare.com/. Published 03/01/2018.
- Dewey G. Viewpoint: Grant New York’s pharmacists provider status. Times Union. https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Viewpoint-Grant-New-York-s-pharmacists-provider-15268368.php. Published 05/13/2020.
- Hippensteele A. New York COVID-19 Testing Pilot Program Includes Independent Community Pharmacies. Pharmacy Times. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/new-york-covid-19-testing-pilot-program-includes-independent-community-pharmacies. Published 05/27/2020.
- Pharmacists Provide Care. Curant Health. https://curanthealth.com/pharmacists-provide-care/. Published 02/03/2015.
- PSSNY P. https://www.pssny.org/page/AnnualLobbyDays. Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. https://www.pssny.org/page/AnnualLobbyDays.
- Mathew D. Pharmacy Advocacy and Advancement: Grassroots Edition. SSHP Pulse
- Berger K, Stephen Kaplan A. Advocacy during crisis: Maintaining a legislative presence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2020. pii: zxaa253
- Coalition for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice. What CAP is Advocating for. The Pharmacist Coalition. https://pharmacistcoalition.com/advocacy-feed/blog-post-one-xch8m.
- Coalition for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice. What is BYOP?. The Pharmacist Coalition. https://pharmacistcoalition.com/general.