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12/12/2000
Press Release

ASHP Calls for New Federal Incentives to Resolve Pharmacist Shortages

A report on the national pharmacy workforce shortage released today to Congress underscores major patient safety gaps in America’s health care system, according to Henri R. Manasse, Jr., Ph.D., Sc.D., executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). In remarks presented on Manasse’s behalf at the "Workforce 2000" conference on pharmacy staffing issues, William A. Zellmer, deputy executive vice president, said that patients are not receiving the scope or quality of care they need and that new federal and state policies are required to solve the problem.

"This is about more than patients not receiving their medications in a timely and efficient manner," said Zellmer. "Hospital care is more complex because patients are more acutely ill and medication therapy is growing in complexity."

At the meeting, Zellmer exhorted policymakers and stakeholders to provide new incentives to help expand the infrastructure of the pharmacy workforce. To address the issue, ASHP is proposing the addition of new federal funds to:

  • Encourage colleges of pharmacy to expand enrollments, and  
  • Provide incentives to health care institutions and colleges of pharmacy to expand post-graduate pharmacy residency training.

ASHP also recommends a multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary effort within the health profession itself, including:

  • Urging leaders within the health-system pharmacy profession to rethink practice models and renovate staffing patterns in hospital and health-system pharmacy departments, and
  • Standardizing and upgrading training programs for pharmacy technicians.

"Pharmacy cannot do this alone," Zellmer said. "We need across-the-board collaboration among pharmacy, nursing, medicine, educational institutions, and healthcare administrators to really make an impact on this critical shortage."

Because of their medication-use expertise, health-system pharmacists are now providing a large variety of patient care services, Zellmer added. He said that hospitals and health systems across the country are increasingly relying on pharmacists to provide clinical patient care and manage system-level medication use. These activities are in addition to traditional drug product distribution and adverse drug event prevention responsibilities.

The increase in patient care activities only exacerbates the workforce shortage problem chronicled in the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) report called "The Pharmacist Workforce: A Study of the Supply and Demand for Pharmacists," Zellmer said. ASHP’s own staffing surveys in 1999 and 2000 found that vacancy rates in hospitals are reaching critical levels. This year, 70 percent of respondents called the shortage of experienced practitioners "severe" in 2000, compared to 48 percent in 1999.

"Pharmacists are making real inroads in optimizing the drug therapy regimens of patients," said Zellmer, pointing to recent research that shows involving pharmacists on patient-care teams can reduce the number of adverse drug effects and improve patient outcomes. "We need to fully utilize pharmacists’ medication-use and drug safety expertise, but I fear that the potential for serious medication errors can only increase as pharmacists are asked to do more and more with less and less," Zellmer said.

He added that the nation’s third-party payment systems for health care services fail to recognize the drug therapy management responsibilities of pharmacists and thus, the value of pharmacists as providers of those services. "We must recognize pharmacists as health care providers under the Social Security Act or patients risk losing access to the nation’s medication-use experts," he added.

ASHP is the 30,000-member national professional association that represents pharmacists who practice in hospitals, health maintenance organizations, long-term care facilities, home care, and other components of health care systems. ASHP, which has a long history of medication-error prevention efforts, believes that the mission of pharmacists is to help people make the best use of medicines. Assisting pharmacists in fulfilling this mission is ASHP’s primary objective. The Society has extensive publishing and educational programs designed to help members improve their delivery of pharmaceutical care, and it is the national accrediting organization for pharmacy residency and pharmacy technician training programs.