To live healthy lives, people need to be able to access health care – yet in some areas across the United States, getting that care can be difficult or impossible, especially for people who don’t have the ability or resources to drive long distances.
These gaps in care are predicted to increase over the next decade, as the U.S. faces a growing shortage of doctors. For example, rural areas are home to 20% of Americans but only 10% of physicians, although shortages can be found in rural, suburban, or urban settings. The same is true of access to pharmacies.
“Independent pharmacists often can close those gaps as the front lines of care in their local communities," said Adam Kautzner, the president of Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefits management business of Evernorth. To advance that care, the company’s new IndependentRx Initiative has created an Independent Pharmacy Advisory Committee to expand the role of rural, suburban, and urban pharmacies in the health care system.
Stephanie Smith Cooney, senior director of independent pharmacy affairs, leads the new committee, which met for the first time in November 2023. “Our national network of more than 65,000 retail locations across the U.S. includes numerous independent pharmacies,” Cooney said, and the COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on the ways pharmacists serve on the frontlines of care for their communities.
“In addition to dispensing medications and providing vaccinations, pharmacists have the training and expertise to take on an expanded role in healthcare,” Cooney said. In a recent survey, pharmacists overwhelmingly agreed they have the ability to be a resource for direct patient care. For example, point-of-care testing at the pharmacy for COVID can improve patient access to treatments and speed recovery.
The new committee, which includes independent pharmacy owners from across the country, will meet regularly to discuss how Express Scripts can and should work to enable an expanded role for pharmacists. “Our first meeting set the stage for this important work,” Cooney said. “Our goal is to ensure access to health care for all who need it by leveraging the value that independent pharmacies bring to the health care system.”