POC-Testing Opportunities in Community Pharmacies
In 2010, an estimated 274,900 pharmacists were practicing in the United States, and this figure is expected to grow at least 25% by 2020. Nearly 200,000 pharmacists practice in the community setting in the United States. By virtue of patient volume and diverse locations nationwide, community pharmacies are highly visible health care facilities that are easily accessible to the public without appointment. Despite their ubiquity, pharmacies are currently an underused health care resource staffed with highly trained health care professionals.
As community pharmacies continue to evolve toward a primary mission of provision of patient care services, the profession has a clear opportunity to expand pharmacist services beyond medication dispensing and patient counseling to encompass convenient, accessible, and affordable primary care services. In fact, many community pharmacies have expanded their services by implementing on-site health care clinics or "retail clinics" that provide preventive health care services such as health screenings, diagnostic services, and vaccinations, as well as treatment for many common illnesses or complications. Given the knowledge, skills, and accessibility of community pharmacists, POC-testing services for infectious diseases represent a focused means through which community pharmacies can expand their services to improve the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
Data demonstrate that community pharmacists and pharmacies can significantly improve the prevention and management of infectious diseases, such as influenza, herpes zoster, and streptococcal pharyngitis. Community pharmacists have become critical to population-based vaccination efforts. With their ubiquity, community pharmacies are proven important elements of efforts to reach populations that might otherwise go unvaccinated (e.g., medically underserved, healthy young and middle-aged adults).
Performing POC testing for common infectious diseases in community pharmacies could also produce a significant societal benefit by lessening inappropriate antimicrobial use, reducing transmission of these pathogens in the community, and improving the capacity to monitor population exposure to an infectious agent (e.g., influenza). In addition to situations in which pharmacists can initiate POC management (e.g., needleexchange programs for injection drug users, clinical services for chronic diseases), limited data have emerged to suggest that community pharmacists' screening for diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C virus, and other communicable diseases of public health interest could improve linkage to care and have a positive impact on disease identification and outcomes.