Magazine article Drug Topics

The Impact of Pharmacists on Public Health

Magazine article Drug Topics

The Impact of Pharmacists on Public Health

Article excerpt

Closing gaps in healthcare disparities

It is much more cost-effective to prevent chronic diseases than to treat them after they occur. Most chronic diseases could be prevented through lifestyle and environmental changes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1

Reducing adult smoking rates by 1% could result in at least 30,000 fewer heart attacks, 16,000 fewer strokes, and $1.5 billion saving over five years, according to the CDC.1 Also, if one-tenth of all Americans began a walking program, $5.6 billion could be saved in the treatment of heart disease.1 In addition, routine childhood vaccinations result in $50 billion saved annually in direct and indirect costs.1

Public health interventions have significant economic ramifications at both the societal and individual levels. A community's financial investment in the well-being of its members will be reflected in fewer health disparities, greater universal access to health care, and an emphasis on early health education and promotion.

As the most accessible healthcare professionals in the community, pharmacists can take the initiative to bridge the gap in these health disparities by effectively communicating with their patients and community on the topics of health literacy, smoking cessation diabetes, lifestyle changes, and the importance of vaccinations.

Health literacy

Independent risk factors for low health literacy include ethnicity, socioeconomic status, older age, and limited education, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.2 Pharmacists who are trained to recognize and properly communicate with a patient who has low health literacy will positively impact public health through improved population health outcomes and, ultimately, decreases in mortality and healthcare costs.

When patients come into the pharmacy to pick up their medications, the pharmacist is the most appropriate healthcare provider to ensure proper understanding of medication use and to reinforce the benefits of adherence. Pharmacists can bridge communication gaps that exist as a result of cultural differences and health literacy disparities among patients.

Pharmacists have the training and knowledge to assess and address a patient's health needs. They have an obligation to focus on the patient and to maintain impeccable standards of quality and safety within their pharmacy practice. Pharmacists can help bridge the health-disparities gap by addressing medication adherence and lifestyle modifications, specifically for patients with chronic diseases.

Causes of nonadherence to medication regimens include side effects, patients' inability to understand the benefits of the medication, and pill burden. Pharmacists have the opportunity to expand their clinical roles beyond the perceived scope of practice and engage patients through services targeting improved adherence and reduced healthcare costs. They can model these methods by taking an active role in public health through primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

Health promotion/education

Primary prevention includes measures taken to either eliminate patients' risk factors or increase their resistance to disease. Pharmacists can educate their patients about interventions that require no treatment, such as changes in lifestyle, nutrition, and their environment. Encouraging people to protect themselves from the sun's ultraviolet rays is one example.

Health education about specific disease states will empower patients to take a more proactive approach to their healthcare. To prepare to educate patients, pharmacists can take local cultural literacy courses relevant to the populations they serve. Culturally relevant educational materials provided in specific languages or with graphic representations will reinforce key concepts and messages that the pharmacist seeks to convey.

An equally important primary prevention service is vaccination education. …

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