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Dr. Pharmacy: Doing more than just filling your prescription

Beginning this summer, a neighborhood pharmacist will be able to do more than just fill a prescription. They will be able to actually write one.

KIDK Eyewitness News 3 anchor Todd Kunz talked to people on the medical side and the pharmacy side to find out why this is happening and how it will affect patients.

It all began with House Bill 191, which was passed by the Idaho Legislature in the 2017 session. When the bill went into effect July 1, 2017, it allowed the Idaho Board of Pharmacy to spend the next year determining what lesser drugs could be prescribed by a pharmacist, so that a patient would not need to see their doctor for a minor illness or ailment. The pharmacist could both write the prescription and fill it.

“The purpose of the state Board of Pharmacy is to protect the public health. And one of the ways that they see we can protect the public health is to provide access to care for patients in our communities, especially those patients in our rural communities. And pharmacists are the most accessible health care practitioners that there are,” said Dr. Jennifer Adams, associate dean of academic affairs and pharmacy law professor at Idaho State University.

While an increase in accessibility is the overall goal, there could also be indirect benefits. A patient could potentially save time and money by not having to schedule a doctor’s appointment. And the law will allow doctors more time to focus on their more seriously ill patients, who need extra care. Still, pharmacists said, this decision, made by the Idaho Board of Pharmacy, and approved by the state Legislature, is centered around the patient.

“From my standpoint, this is a very good thing because it benefits the patients,” said pharmacist Mike Merrill. Merrill has has been a pharmacist since 1978 and is the owner of Mike’s Pharmacy and Compounding Center in Idaho Falls.

“The important thing is the patient. We want to see the patients. We want to see the patients live longer. These patients become our friends,” said Merrill.

“I think it give pharmacists a lot of opportunities, but also new obligations,” said Dr. Joseph Weatherly, a doctor of osteopathic medicine. Weatherly is a family practitioner at Bingham Memorial Family Medicine in Idaho Falls. One of his concerns would be keeping a pharmacist in check just like a doctor.

“The oversight that the Board of Pharmacy has over the pharmacists is pretty equivalent to what the medical society has over doctors, but on the other side, there is an interesting dynamic of how they’ll integrate into the health care system. There’s questions about referrals, how the physician or the provider-to-provider interactions will go,” said Weatherly.

There would be protocols and standards in place. Merrill said pharmacists would be required to inform a patient’s primary care physician within a week whenever a pharmacist adds a new medication to the patient’s regime. If the patient doesn’t have a primary care physician, the pharmacist could recommend one. The pharmacist would also be required to follow up with the patient.

“We want to make sure that they are not having any side effects from the medication, that they’re not having any other problems, (that) we’re not causing any problems by adding the medication,” said Merrill.

Potential patients and parents Kunz talked with seem to agree with the coming change.

“I think it’s a good idea. I mean, it’s easier to get to a pharmacist sometimes. It’s a lot cheaper as well,” said potential patient Jimmy Laner.

“When you have little kids, your time is important. So, yeah, anything to make life more simple and a little bit easier is a good thing,’ said parent Maureen Silvas.

“I think it would be a really good thing. I think it would, you would avoid the risk of exposing your children to other illnesses in the doctor’s office. That’s my biggest worry, waiting in the waiting room,” said parent Angela Saunders.

Having a pharmacist write a prescription is not a new concept. This addition just expands the scope of what’s currently been in place since the 1990s and it’s open to future expansion by the Board of Pharmacy.

“The items that are currently on the list that pharmacists can prescribe independently in the state of Idaho are all things that have been researched in other jurisdictions. So they’ve proven to be safe and effective in other places,” said Adams.

In addition to this recent expansion of what pharmacists can prescribe, the Board of Pharmacy also reduced some regulations. All of this is aimed at increasing access for patients, especially in the rural communities where they can potentially utilize telepharmacy. The new rule goes into effect July 1.

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