You may not have heard the term “pharmacy desert” before, but it’s a growing problem that can have significant ramifications to communities and patients. This article will discuss everything you need to know about pharmacy deserts, from what they are, how they happen, and how we can stop them.
What is a pharmacy desert?
A pharmacy desert essentially describes any location where the inhabitants don’t have access to local or readily available pharmacies, such as a low-income neighborhood without the resources to provide local pharmacies. Pharmacy deserts could also describe an extremely rural area where people and public commodities are already few and far between, and pharmacies are less likely to be present.
Why are pharmacy deserts bad?
According to the CDC, nearly half of all Americans have used at least one prescription drug within the last month. However, about 60 million people live in rural areas, while another 38.1 million live in poverty.
In total, 98 million people in the United States may have limited access to a pharmacy – and yet statistically, about 49 million of them will require prescription drugs and pharmaceutical care. Unfortunately, when patients do not have local access to pharmacy care, they are less likely to remain compliant with their medications, which will ultimately affect overall health.
How do pharmacy deserts occur?
In many ways, pharmacy deserts are the result of basic business principles. Low-access locations tend to occur when the surrounding communities do not have the financial resources to sustain a pharmacy, and is forced to close. This could be the result of fewer customers walking through the door or even low reimbursement levels from insurance providers.
Pharmacy deserts appear to be on the rise. One study conducted by the Rural Policy Research Institute found that approximately 12 percent of all independently-owned pharmacies in rural areas of the U.S. closed from 2003-2013. Another study found that 32 percent of Chicago’s census tracts were pharmacy deserts, meaning that approximately one million citizens in that city alone live in a pharmacy desert.
What can we do to stop pharmacy deserts from spreading?
The issue that results from pharmacy deserts is a lack of access for the individuals in those locations. Therefore, solutions to pharmacy deserts must increase access in both lower socioeconomic and extremely rural locations.
One popular solution to a pharmacy desert is “telepharmacy.” Telepharmacy allows a pharmacist to remotely supervise a pharmacy technician through a live video feed. Telepharmacies can either be opened on their own, or a traditional pharmacy can be converted to accommodate telepharmacy functions. Telepharmacies can also be opened in basic medical facilities, where patients are already seeking medical attention.
In any case, telepharmacies provide basic pharmacy care to patients without requiring those patients to travel long distances. Not only do telepharmacies increase access to pharmaceutical care across a wider geographical area, but this solution is also extremely cost-effective and increases business and sales in those pharmacies.
In the same vein, many pharmacies are evaluating the possibility of delivering prescriptions or mailing prescriptions to patients’ homes. Mail-order prescriptions and prescription deliveries benefit patients who have difficulties getting out of their homes or traveling long distances. With pharmacy mail-order and delivery options, patients are able to stay compliant with their medications without worrying about travel.
Another solution is known as “physician dispensing.” Physician dispensing refers to a physician’s ability to provide medications directly from the office. In other words, patients only have to make one trip to seek medical care, obtain a prescription and pick up their medication. The physician dispensing solution can be great for patients on a prescription for a short period of time, such as an antibiotic or a pain relief medication.
All of these solutions greatly increase convenience to patients, provide relief to communities located in pharmacy deserts, and ensure that everyone has access to the healthcare they need!