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VCU Study Makes the Case for Pharmacists as Healthcare Providers

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   November 03, 2023

The study finds that pharmacists could save millions of lives and more than $1 trillion in healthcare costs if they were given more leeway to help patients with chronic care management and coordination.

As pharmacies struggle to find their footing in a hard economy, a study out of Virginia Commonwealth University makes the argument that pharmacists could save millions of lives and cut healthcare costs significantly if they were allowed to help manage patients with chronic conditions.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), finds that pharmacists who are given more leeway to help patients living with hypertension could prevent more than 15 million heart attacks, roughly 8 million strokes, and more than 4 million cases each of angina and heart failure and save $1.1 trillion over 30 years, or more than $10,100 per patient.

The study supports a long-running argument that pharmacists should be allowed to perform more care management and coordination services, and it could help the likes of Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid as they seek to reverse losses and redefine themselves as community healthcare hubs.

“Pharmacists’ role as healthcare providers tends to be underused in the community, and this is really about how pharmacists can provide for their communities in a way that improves access to care for hypertension,” Dave Dixon, PharmD, corresponding author of the study and the Nancy L. and Ronald H. McFarlane Professor of Pharmacy and chair of the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the VCU School of Pharmacy, said in a story provided by VCU.

“Although pharmacists currently have some type of prescribing privileges in 49 states and Washington, D.C., they are not recognized as providers under the Social Security Act,” he added. “This is one of the major barriers to implementing these life-saving – and cost-saving – measures for patients.”

According to the study, pharmacists could trigger these outcomes by becoming more active members of a patient’s care team, including offering advice on health and wellness, helping patients adhere to their medication regimen, and assisting in prescribing certain medications. This would be especially impactful in underserved communities, whose residents have much higher rates of death due to hypertension and where the pharmacy is visited more often than a doctor’s office or clinic.

According to a 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, more than 95% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, and they visit pharmacies 12 times more often than a primary care provider. With the nation in the midst of a shortage of healthcare professionals, advocates say pharmacies could support local health systems by taking on more services that a PCP would normally provide.

In addition, Dixon and his colleagues found that the improved outcomes that result in interventions by pharmacists could give patient more than 30 million “quality-adjusted life years,” or years where one’s quality of life is better than it would have been had those care management steps not been taken.

“Being that hypertension affects so many Americans – we’re talking about over 100 million people in the U.S. – I think the impact is tremendous because everybody knows somebody with high blood pressure,” said Dixon. “It’s one of the leading causes of heart disease and kidney failure in the world.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


A study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University finds that pharmacists could prevent more than 15 million heart attacks and nearly 8 million strokes and save $1.1 trillion over 30 years if they were allowed to help provide care management for patients living with hypertension.

With Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid struggling and the nation’s healthcare workforce shrinking, advocates say pharmacists should be allowed to perform more healthcare services in collaboration with primary care providers.

The study found that those outcomes would be triggered if pharmacists were allowed to help patients with chronic care management, including offering health and wellness advice, helping with medication management and even prescribing some medications.

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