One Potential Solution for a Future Physician Shortage
Considering the recent healthcare changes combined with the advancing age of our population, the role of health care professionals may change in the future. There is speculation that by 2035 the number of primary health care physicians available to adequately manage patients' needs and conditions will not be sufficient. If this is accurate, the role of non-physician health care providers (e.g. pharmacists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, etc.) may evolve to help address these societal needs. Countries, such as England, have already begun utilizing the expertise of pharmacists to help general practitioners meet their population's healthcare needs. Discussions have also included the possibility of expanding pharmacists' scope of practice and allowing them the ability to prescribe, with additional training. With the development of accountable care organizations (ACO's) through the Affordable Care Act, pharmacists have taken on more patient care related responsibilities to fulfill their roles within the ACO's and meet the growing needs associated with a shift from the inpatient to outpatient/ambulatory care settings.
Over the years, pharmacists' involvement in the health care team has evolved to encompass more than just dispensing medications. Current doctorate of pharmacy program curricula prepare students to work collaboratively with other health care professionals to assess patients, contribute to treatment plan development, manage medication regimens, educate patients, and promote preventative care. Students complete a rigorous, six-year, academic program which entails both classroom- and practice-based experiences of which over 1400 hours are completed in various practice settings with other healthcare professionals. The skills obtained during this training can be extremely valuable in a current health care system that is plagued by a continual rise in health care costs and spending, poor medication adherence, and hospital readmissions. Considering how many of these issues stem from the disruption in patient care across the health care continuum or transition of care, pharmacists can play integral roles in improving these outcomes while easing the burden of basic patient care on other health care providers.