October 7, 2020— October is American Pharmacists Month, and this year we have even more reasons to celebrate their contributions to the health care system. Pharmacists are as essential to the health care system’s mobilization in the face of the current public health crisis as the emergency room physicians, the epidemiologists, the intensive care unit nursing staff, and others who have been the worthy subjects of public acclaim and gratitude during these trying times.
Hospital pharmacists, including our members, are providing critical patient care during the pandemic. They are key figures on the patient care team for COVID-19 patients, especially those on ventilators who require significant medication therapies. They are a crucial part of the nationwide ramp-up of testing for the virus. And of course, they continue to help ensure that non-COVID patients with chronic illnesses have the medications they need to stay healthy amid postponed medical care.
The global pandemic has made many more people aware of the key role pharmacists play on the patient care team. Organizations including the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists were quick to point out instances earlier in the public health emergency when pharmacists were overlooked in expressions of support for medical professionals. Their advocacy on this important point ensured that when Congress drafted legislation that included proposed federal aid for essential health care workers, pharmacists were added to the list of designated recipients.
Vital Members of the Care Team
The importance of pharmacists to the patient care effort did not come as news to people who work with these dedicated professionals at our nation’s safety-net hospitals. They know that today’s pharmacist often has an extensive amount of medical training, including clinical specialty education and board certification. A patient care team often is not complete without having a clinical pharmacist on board to coordinate the medication aspects of the care plan.
In many safety-net hospitals, pharmacists are embedded in departments where they can provide bedside consultation and education to patients on the medications they need to stay healthy, often thanks to 340B drug pricing program savings. So the last person in a white coat that a person might see before they are discharged might well be a pharmacist. He or she shows up to make sure that patient has the drugs they need and knows how to take them so that they don’t end up right back at the hospital.
Pharmacists have marshalled their 340B savings to take needed care beyond the walls of the hospital and into communities where those services are needed the most. These efforts are especially important during times when patients might be unable or unwilling to visit the hospital for their care.
Leading Us Beyond the Crisis
As the COVID-19 emergency stabilizes and then subsides, pharmacists will be key figures in using 340B savings to help get patients back on track with leading their healthiest lives. This is particularly critical for people living with chronic diseases who have experienced declines in their health during times when it has become much more difficult for them to manage their conditions.
These health professionals do so much more than just dispense medications. During American Pharmacists Month, we celebrate the wide breadth of crucial care they provide to all of us and our loved ones. Those taking the time to salute our essential health care workers and reflect on the lifesaving work they do – both during pandemics and after they have ended – should remember to celebrate the pharmacists as well.