What is the best term to describe what pharmacists do?
Pharmacists agree they do much more than merely distribute pharmaceuticals. Today's pharmacists, armed with product knowledge, professional expertise and sophisticated computer technology, are capable of providing more services to patients and third-party payers than ever before.
But when it comes to how to explain what pharmacists do, there is no consensus. Is it, "pharmaceutical care," "pharmacist services" or "cognitive services"?
Arguably, the worst description is "cognitive services," since only pharmacists know what this means, and the idea is for others, namely patients and third-party payers, to understand, and even pay for, such services.
The American Pharmaceutical Association calls what pharmacists do "pharmaceutical care," a term Executive Vice President John Gans explains is preferred because it is analogous to physicians providing medical care.
The National Association of Retail Druggists, or NARD as it now prefers to be called, uses the term "pharmacist services," easily the most straight-forward of the three terms to describe the services that pharmacists perform.
The nomenclature pharmacists use takes on political significance when describing various controversial practices. The words used are important because those who can make their definitions stick will likely carry the day on the issues as well.
Community pharmacists oppose "discriminatory pricing," those class of trade discounts given to mail-order pharmacies and HMOs, but not to them, regardless of volume or the market share movement they can affect.
Mail-order pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies say community pharmacists are seeking to impose "unitary pricing," which would be one price for all, regardless of efficiencies brought to bear. The vaguely Orwellian-sounding unitary pricing, used to describe community pharmacies' objection to price differences of up to 1,200%, is brought to you by a group that five years ago changed its name from the National Association of Mail Service Pharmacies to the American Managed Care Pharmacy Association.
A transitional class for prescription-to-over-the-counter switches is described by its proponents, mostly community pharmacists, as a "pharmacist class" or "third class" of drugs. The Nonprescription Drug Manufacturers Association, representing manufacturers of over-the-counter medications, has a different name: "druggist's monopoly," with its disparaging insinuation that pharmacists' motivations are strictly economic, and anti-competitive to boot.
The term "managed care" itself is said by some to be a misnomer. It is sometimes used as code for restrictive pharmacy networks, and, in any event, has become a catch-all term intended to appeal to third-party payers, rather than those who actually receive the care.
That brings us back to what term is best suited to describe how pharmacists take care of and look out for their patients.
Instead of pharmacist services or pharmaceutical care, how about pharmacist care? The name would appeal on several fronts: it includes the pharmacist; being under a pharmacist's care would be analagous to being under a doctor's care, and it wrestles back the term "care" from those who profess to manage care but in actuality are out to cut costs by squeezing out the care givers.