The results are in. President Obama has just been elected to a second term. But what does that mean for the U.S. healthcare system and for the profession of pharmacy?
One thing seems certain now, Obamacare is here to stay. Whether you love it or hate it, Obama’s signature legislation will become more fully implemented by 2014. But does this provide a golden opportunity for the profession of pharmacy?
There is one dynamic involved in the Obamacare discussion that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention. The ratio of providers to patients could drastically change as this legislation becomes fully implemented. And that might be a green light for the profession of pharmacy.
With the potential for millions of new patients entering a healthcare system and the expected defection of some providers due to retirement or other factors, a provider shortage may be in our collective future. The question becomes who will step up to meet this developing need?
More and more patients will be seeking services as Obamacare unfolds. But where will they go? Can the current emergency department and urgent care service network handle a large influx of new patients? Will there be enough primary care providers to handle any new demand on the system?
Will there even be this big wave of demand that many are expecting? I think demand for healthcare services is going to rise for several reasons but I’m not so sure the healthcare infrastructure exists to handle such an influx.
So assuming there will be more patients to serve than providers available, who will step up to meet this new challenge? Will physician assistants or nurse practitioners make up the difference or will additional help be needed?
I think the changing role of pharmacists argument many within the profession (including myself) have argued for a while now will finally be put to the test. If there will be an influx of new patients who need lots of medical care, why not have pharmacists meet some of that demand?
There are many things pharmacists will never be able to effectively handle. Emergency services and the more detailed care that other practitioners provide will not be able to be effectively shifted to pharmacists. Any attempts to change that fact would involve an overhaul of the pharmacy school educational program.
But what about non-urgent medical ailments? Haven’t pharmacists effectively triaged the poison ivy cases, allergy symptoms, minor cuts, ring worm sufferers, and other minor ailments for decades? People already come to us with these issues, why not grant us the ability to prescribe and treat them on a widespread basis?
Yes, pharmacists already prescribe under a limited capacity in some form or another throughout the U.S. But I am talking about a widespread expansion of the role of pharmacists into something that would be closer in appearance to a nurse practitioner’s responsibilities.
I’ve called pharmacists the sleeping giants of the healthcare system. But what if this re-election of President Obama and the affirmation of Obamacare is our wake-up call? Hibernation is over everyone, it’s time to wake up and get to work.
I don’t know how the healthcare system will change because of Obamacare. Many factors will influence that change. We may not know its full impact for a couple of years yet.
But what I do know is that regardless of what changes come, there will be unmet healthcare needs all across America. And my argument for you today is that pharmacists have the ability to step up and meet at least some of those needs.
Will pharmacists recognize and take advantage of the opportunities we now have in front of us? Or will we sit back as a profession and watch others fill those new roles? As a profession, we may not have a choice but to act.
Pharmacists have been under-utilized as providers for a while now. It’s time to change that fact. America has always been the Land of Opportunity. But for pharmacists, that fact may never be more true than right now!
The Redheaded Pharmacist