Pharmacists play role in addressing health care inequity

By Dr. Brandon Samson and Dr. Jim Scott

A revolution is underway in the health care world, driven by a heightened awareness of inequity and inequality in the current health care system, as well as a need to address chronic health conditions that are more likely to lead to hospitalizations and major complications.

Despite the awareness of these issues and efforts to address them through broader education, many individuals continue to remain hesitant in seeking routine medical care stemming from lack of time, financial resources and trust in the system itself.

Many individuals generally seek health care only for acute and life-threatening emergencies that can be potentially averted through routine care with an established provider and an increased understanding of health literacy and accountability.

The next generation of health care providers are currently being trained to understand and advocate for the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in health care. This shift in education can potentially ensure that health care providers:

• Relate to and closely identify with the diverse demographics of the patients they treat.
• Advocate for changes to the system to better serve patients.
• Close current gaps in accessing care. To address gaps in health care access means, among many things, to encourage and educate patients on how to access care and to rely on the knowledge and compassion of providers to address their health-related concerns. But for patients, they may not know where to start or what resources are available to them.

Pharmacists are considered one of the most accessible health care providers, but what does that mean?

Pharmacists are the one health care provider you can see without the need for an appointment or health insurance. Many people don’t realize that, because of their current medical training, pharmacists can potentially recommend over-the-counter therapies and other medical products based on some patient interviewing and discussion.

Many are also trained to physically assess patients at a basic level, while also administering routine vaccinations (with the Covid-19 vaccines being the most recent example of pharmacist-provided care to the public at large). During the pandemic when traditional health care services were being diverted to address rampant infections in patients with Covid-19, pharmacists continued to provide essential services to the public and sometimes served as the only connection for patients who had questions related to their overall health but were unable to access traditional providers.

Many are also trained in more advanced-level provisions such as dispensing self-administered hormonal contraceptives, nicotine replacement products and prescription medications for travel purposes, such as specialty vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis.

Additional legislation is underway to solidify the broader scope of pharmacist-provided care that they are already trained for, which hopefully encourages patients to maintain routine pharmacist-provided care and to close access-related gaps.

In an ideal world, pharmacists view their role as a supplement to the work physicians and nurses do by serving as medication management experts and understanding what therapies to recommend, while escalating concerns to other appropriate providers. In that regard, pharmacists are hopeful they can help close the gaps in access for their communities while identifying new ways of elevating care.

Brandon Samson, PharmD, is the associate medical director for Iluma Medical Communications Inc. and project consultant for California Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Jim Scott, PharmD, is the dean of Touro University California, College of Pharmacy, a Partner of Solano Public Health.

For Your Health: Pharmacists play role in addressing health care inequity