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Keep Trusted Advisor Roles Well Defined, Separate

Keep Trusted Advisor Roles Well Defined, Separate

It was easy to become glazed over with the amount of information and statistics presented during the Food Marketing Institute's first Health & Wellness Conference, held in conjunction with FMI 2010 trade show this month.

Of the hundreds of PowerPoint slides and charts showing the big rewards and payoff in becoming leaders in wellness, one slide, presented by Thom Blischok of the SymphonyIRI Group, stood out for me. It had to do with trust.

In surveying 1,400 consumers on their current shopping habits, IRI asked shoppers to rate their most trusted health and wellness information source. Surprisingly, it was not the pharmacist. The primary care physician took first place with 51% of respondents; followed by health and wellness Internet sites, 9%; and national health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, 7%.

The pharmacist was ranked on an equal par with friends and relatives by 5% of respondents as a trusted source.

Perhaps it was the wording — trusted source of information vs. most trusted professional.

For years, the pharmacist has ranked high as the nation's most trusted professional. Last year the pharmacist came in second behind nurses in Gallup's annual survey that gauges Americans trust, or distrust, of various professions.

IRI's consumer question indicates room for improvement when it comes to pharmacists providing the kind of health and wellness information shoppers are looking for today.

This was underscored during the closing discussion by Dr. Pamela Peeke, a physician and media personality, who coached pharmacists in attendance on how to better engage their patients, especially on healthy food tips. But as several members of the audience pointed out, this may exceed a pharmacist's comfort zone. While they are “classically trained” to dispense drugs and advise patients on drug usage, contradictions, outcomes and treatment, they are not nutritionists or dietitians. They also may not be accustomed to moving out from behind the counter when they have to move lines at the dispensing window.

The pharmacy today is challenged by thin margins pressured by adjustments in reimbursement rates. As a result of health care reform, pharmacies can expect more volume and patients. Will pharmacists have the time and resources to advise patients on nutritional health? Do they have the time to come out from behind the counter to be a lifestyle coach?

Perhaps this is one area where pharmacists need to stick to what they can do best as experts in drug utilization and compliance. That's not to say that knowledge about food and nutrition is not important. But that's why supermarkets have nutritionists and dietitians. These professionals are not being asked to know about prescription drug treatments.

If eating healthy foods and staying active lowers risk of disease, then we can expect less drug usage in the future. At that point, pharmacists may have time to move from the clinical arena into selling healthy foods.

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