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Industry Analysis: Preparing for the Future of Healthcare and Pharmacy
JOCELYN KONRAD P’92, executive vice president of pharmacy for Rite Aid, is charged with leading her organization through changes and preparing it for the future of healthcare. In a Q and A with The Bulletin, she shared her advice.
When you graduated from PCP, how did you envision the future of pharmacy? When I graduated, I was so excited to be entering a profession that would allow me to help people on a personal level and play a meaningful role in supporting their health and wellness. Upon graduating, many of the processes inside the pharmacy were manual, outside of the pharmacy system; there wasn’t a lot of technology supporting the tasks and dispensing functions. I understood that technology would enhance how this is done over time and allow pharmacists more time to interact with their patients. I was also confident that caring for patients and getting to know them would always be at the center of what we do as pharmacists, building patient relationships that support the patient in their journey to improved health. This same foundation of our profession is just as true today as it was when I graduated. As pharmacists, we create personalized, professional relationships that are extremely impactful, and through this work, we’re more focused than ever on helping our patients achieve positive outcomes.
How can students and recent alumni prepare for changes in industry? All of us must keep close to the changes that are occurring in the healthcare industry and the regulations that will impact the profession. We must work together to have a voice and a seat at the table to help shape these changes. Additionally, we can prepare for this change by challenging ourselves to embrace and grow our professional knowledge while keeping our feet firm on the core principal of our profession, which for pharmacists is patient care. We all must be very focused on protecting the profession of pharmacy and work together to be open to the evolution that is in front of us and recognize the gap that we can fill in healthcare as providers of care.
With an increasing reliance on technology, how do you think pharmacists need to change and adapt to stay competitive and relevant and protect their careers? I believe technology supports the relevance of pharmacists. Pharmacists must understand that their role is not in filling prescriptions but in holistic patient care. Improved technology in pharmacy has just provided an enhanced platform for pharmacists to do what they do best—provide care and take care of the patients who need their help and support the most. Pharmacists need to embrace their patients and their role in the healthcare ecosystem. Pharmacists must be leaders in the healthcare industry by excelling at their ability to communicate, educate, and show empathy for patients—in turn they can influence behaviors and drive change.
Regarding the opioid crisis, how can pharmacists and community pharmacies be a part of the solution? This is a very complex crisis, and it takes a multifaceted approach to support patients and the communities we serve. At Rite Aid, we’ve established a comprehensive strategy to help combat the opioid epidemic. For example, we participate in prescription drug monitoring programs, including a “red flag” process for pharmacists to regularly review prescriptions for patients not known by the pharmacy or where there may be concerns or suspicions of misuse. We’ve also made naloxone, a medication that can be used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, available without a prescription at all Rite Aid pharmacies nationwide. And through the Rite Aid Foundation, we’re introducing the Prescription Drug Safety program, an innovative digital course about prescription drug abuse prevention, to more than 400 schools through a three-year, $1.7 million commitment. These are just a few of the steps we’re taking to help combat this crisis.
From your perspective now, what does a community pharmacy look like in 20 years? It’s along those same lines. The tools and technology will change and continue to support creating efficiencies within the pharmacy. These efficiencies will allow the pharmacist in the community setting to spend more time with the patient and build stronger collaborative relationships with other healthcare providers to support the overall health of the patient. As a trusted advisor and a healthcare partner in the healthcare ecosystem, pharmacists, I believe, will increase their focus on counseling patients to optimize their medication therapy and improve adherence; have expanded prescriptive authority; support, recommend, and deliver appropriate clinical services; close gaps in care; and support behavior change through motivational interviewing and coaching. Overall, pharmacists will play an even bigger role in supporting good health, improving outcomes, and lowering overall healthcare costs. Pharmacists are easily accessible and readily available to provide a higher level of care to the communities they serve. I do believe that AI (artificial intelligence) will continue to evolve and be the engine that helps support personalizing the care that pharmacists will provide to their attributed patients, and I also believe that pharmacogenetics will enhance the way pharmacists practice and collaborate with prescribers.
What do you see as the biggest innovation in the field? I don’t believe there has been exceptional innovation in the profession related to technology, but I do believe there continues to be evolutions in the way we practice pharmacy. Beyond technology and how patients are communicated with, such as text message alerts, it’s the idea that pharmacists can do more. A great example is that, every year, millions of patients get immunizations at their community pharmacy. That wasn’t the case when I graduated. I lived through this evolution and change management of our pharmacists—it has been amazing to see how pharmacists have embraced this change and are making a huge impact in protecting their patients through immunizations now.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for pharmacists moving forward? Some of the biggest challenges for pharmacists today are the continued decline in reimbursement rates and validating their value outside of dispensing medications. Pharmacists are in a unique position to support behavior change and improve adherence. Pharmacists today must embrace this new era of patient care, which again goes far beyond filling prescriptions, and consistently demonstrate their value to the healthcare system by driving positive outcomes.
How can pharmacists prepare and be nimble to meet those challenges? By embracing change and challenging yourself to learn and grow. Pharmacists must realize that any new service we can provide that makes a meaningful difference to the health of our patients will only strengthen our profession heading forward.
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