If the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education has its way, the five-year baccalaureate degree in pharmacy will be snuffed out by the year 2000.
That idea doesn't particularly appeal to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. But rather than enter the skirmish empty-handed, NACDS commissioned an independent analysis.
"We feel strongly that it is time . . . to move away from anecdotal elements of the discussion and go straight to fact," NACDS president and CEO Ronald Ziegler said at a recent press conference in New York City. He noted that the study, which was performed by Menlo Park, Calif., researcher SRI International, assessed the future role of the community pharmacist and the educational requirements needed to fulfill that role. Factors examined, according to SRI senior consultant Glen Cureton, included elements related to consumers, pharmacists and their education, health-care delivery, drug distribution, and technology.
Counseling role: Cataloguing some key findings, Cureton, a Pharm.D. himself, said the research team believes that the most likely role to evolve for the community pharmacist is that of a "drug use counselor." He or she would spend the greatest portion of time counseling patients on prescription drugs as well as on the use of over-the-counter products.
Pharmacists would still oversee and control drug distribution, perform drug utilization review, provide on-line drug use evaluation to patients and managed care systems, and collaborate with M.D.s and patients on monitoring some therapeutic outcomes, he added.
But the profession has some hurdles to jump before its role becomes so clearly defined. At present, neither consumers nor pharmacists believe consumers will pay for counseling on prescription drugs. Consumers do tend to be more willing to reimburse pharmacists once they understand the benefits of the service. However, helping patients choose OTCs is likely to remain a free or promotional service.
Employers and insurance companies are not likely to pick up the tab for either Rx or OTC counseling in the near future. Cureton noted that third-party groups won't pay for "undefined" and "unproven pharmacy care services.
And yet, he noted, there is evidence that the pharmacist can improve quality of life and reduce overall health-care costs by counseling patients. Further, the study indicates that pharmacy counseling would be covered if the economic value of the service could be definitively proved. As it is, Cureton said, some third parties aren't paying the full cost involved in the actual dispensing of prescriptions.
When pharmacists were questioned in two SRI surveys -- one included 677 community pharmacists from all over the country (94% had bachelor's degrees), the other 124 California Pharm. …