Compared to older generations, younger Americans — specifically Gen Zers and Millennials — have a different perspective on the “who” and “where” of healthcare delivery. These generations are more open to different styles and forums for care, and they see pharmacists as playing a particularly larger role in primary services.
But in a recent survey commissioned by Wolters Kluwer, Pharmacy Next: Health Consumer Medication Trends, many expressed concerns about whether these and other retail sites have the capacity to become the new locus of primary care.
Here’s a look at what the survey revealed about younger consumers’ care expectations and how pharmacies can meet those needs.
From primary care to the pharmacy
The survey underscored the fact that the healthcare landscape is changing. In fact, 61% of survey respondents believe that within five years, most primary care services will be provided at sites such as pharmacies and retail clinics rather than at the traditional doctor’s office.
In line with these beliefs and partly in response to the pandemic, healthcare continues to decentralize, moving closer to the patient through either virtual care from home or via retail clinics. Pharmacies are transforming from stores offering prescriptions, allergy meds, and candy into primary care hubs.
Pharmacies are ideal settings for primary care, mainly because they’re located in the communities they serve. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90% of people in the US live within five miles of one, and people visit pharmacies about 12 times more frequently than they do their own primary care provider.
Additionally, much of the primary care encounter relates to medication: Nearly 72% of physician office visits involve medication therapy, making the pharmacy a natural setting for this kind of care.
The shifting role of the pharmacist
Changing the “where” of healthcare also changes the “who.”
Fortunately, consumers across generations are ready for these shifts. The survey found that consumers would trust pharmacists (56%), nurse practitioners (55%), and physician assistants (50%) to provide healthcare and write prescriptions if it meant lower costs. However, there are some distinctions between generations:
- Fifty-seven percent of Gen Xers and 55% of Boomers+ said they would trust a physician assistant with their medication prescriptions, compared to only 42% of Gen Zers and 47% of Millennials.
- Similarly, 67% of Gen Xers and 57% of Boomers+ said they would trust a nurse practitioner with their prescriptions, compared to just 44% of Gen Zers and 53% of Millennials.
Interestingly, when survey respondents encountered the same question about pharmacists that was phrased differently, the level of trust shot up, especially among younger consumers. Overall, 72% said they would be open to having medications prescribed by a specially trained pharmacist rather than a doctor. However, 78% of Gen Z respondents and 80% of Millennials stated the same.
No matter who writes the prescription, patients want to be sure they get the right medicine: 65% of respondents worry about possible medication interactions, and 50% worry they’ll receive the wrong dosage. Matching the right medication to the right patient through genetic testing can resolve many of these issues.
Building trust in pharmacogenomics
Pharmacogenomics enables prescribers to know precisely the right medication treatment for each patient. Especially when used alongside medication management, pharmacogenomics has the potential to improve the success of medication therapy, reduce adverse reactions, and save patients money.
A significant body of research points to a clear role for pharmacists in providing pharmacogenomics services and related medication management.
Young generations appreciate the power of pharmacogenomics
Consumers are open to these services, both in theory and practice: 68% said they believed their individual genomic information could effectively guide prescription decisions, with Gen Z (74%) and Millennials (77%) leading the way. The above-average interest from younger generations demonstrates that pharmacogenomics is a burgeoning field with growing interest
Even more respondents (72%) indicated a willingness to provide a blood sample for analysis used to personalize medical care, and 88% said they see an incentive for health insurers to cover genomic testing if it helps payers avoid wasted spending on ineffective or unnecessary medications.
But privacy fears could hinder uptake
This suggests that pharmacogenomics will continue to become more mainstream. There is, however, one troubling finding: Gen Z (57%) and Millennials (53%) said they wouldn’t provide a sample for genomic analysis because of perceived privacy risks, compared to 35% of Gen X and Boomers+. If pharmacists and clinicians want to advance pharmacogenomics — in the pharmacy or elsewhere — they’ll need to find ways to address these privacy concerns and build trust with younger generations.
Easing patient concerns around capacity
With the right training and support, pharmacists can gain the skills to take on more patient care responsibilities, from prescribing to making pharmacogenomics-informed recommendations. But do they have the capacity? Many currently don’t, which is a serious concern for consumer, especially those in younger generations.
More than half of those surveyed (51%) worry about potential problems with their prescriptions related to understaffed pharmacies. Their top three concerns are:
- Receiving an incorrect dosage (50%).
- Receiving the wrong medication (50%).
- Receiving erroneous instructions (47%).
The pharmacist as educator
Despite these concerns, consumers expect pharmacists to keep them safe: 97% of respondents said pharmacists should have the responsibility of informing them about the safety and effectiveness of their medications.
As pharmacies evolve into primary care hubs, the role of the pharmacist-as-educator will become even more important. Pharmacists will increasingly need the resources to connect with patients and hold meaningful conversations.
Boosting capacity involves more than providing additional staffing, however. It requires equipping pharmacists and the physician assistants and nurse practitioners who staff retail clinics with the necessary technologies, connectivity solutions, and workflow enhancements.
Meeting new demands requires new tools
If pharmacies and retail clinics are to become efficient primary care settings in which pharmacists, PAs, and NPs prescribe medications, give recommendations, and perform other patient care tasks, the healthcare delivery system must evolve.
Younger patients want care delivered where, when, and how they prefer it, and they expect better communication and digital engagement from their providers. Pharmacies need the tools and staffing to meet these changing demands.
More than anything, the pharmacists, PAs, and NPs who staff these clinics must become more fully integrated into patients’ care team. They need access to relevant, actionable patient information from the electronic health record, and they need the capacity to take on the demands of a shifting role. Without recognition as full members of the patient’s healthcare team, and without seamless data-sharing, these clinics will struggle to fully function as the primary care provider of choice.
With the right support and digital health technology, however, they can transform primary care for all generations.
To learn more about the survey findings and gain insights into how pharmacies can meet the needs of younger consumers, visit Pharmacy Next for survey resources, expert analyses, and a panel discussion.