How Pharmacists Can Help Address Social Determinants of Health

A new guide from PQA outlines exemplar programs that put the pharmacist at the helm of social determinants of health work.

The Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) has issued a new resource guide to help pharmacists navigate certain social determinants of health that might crop up when a patient visits the pharmacy.

Particularly, the resource guide details 20 real-world programs that help address social determinants of health that affect patients’ abilities to access or manage their medications. The guide also features information about SDOH screenings, social services referrals, and other services that pharmacists can employ to address social determinants of health.

SDOH, or the social factors that affect a patient’s ability to achieve and maintain wellness, impact individuals across the healthcare continuum, including the pharmacy setting. And being that community pharmacists are among the healthcare providers with whom patients have the strongest relationships, they hold a lot of power in mitigating SDOH.

“PQA members are among the nation’s leaders in addressing SDOH barriers through innovative patient-focused approaches to care,” Micah Cost, PharmD, MS, PQA’s CEO, said in a statement. “This resource guide provides practical, real-world solutions to inform and support improvements in addressing health disparities and delivering more equitable care and outcomes across the continuum of care.”

Common SDOH affecting patients during pharmacy encounters include, but are not limited to:

  • Cost of Medications
  • Cultural or Literacy Barriers
  • Decent, Safe and Affordable Housing
  • Food Security
  • Screening for Unmet Needs
  • Social Isolation
  • Transportation

PQA outlined solutions to these SDOH barriers in the resource guide.

For example, the guide outlined the Allegheny County Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative, which employed pharmacists to hold community health clinics to provide basic primary care and SDOH screenings. The community health initiative helped refer patients to primary or other preventive care services and well as SDOH and social services resources.

All said, PQA said the program addressed all seven of the common SDOH that crop up in pharmacy settings, demonstrating just one comprehensive approach to health equity.

A second example outlined how Dispensary of Hope, a national organization, obtains certain medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers as donations. Through healthcare partnership, DoH then issues these medications to pharmacies across the country who in turn give the medications to underserved patients at no cost.

This program helps address the cost of medication and cultural or literacy barriers, PQA said.

And in a third example, PQA outlined a program that embeds community pharmacists in primary care settings to provide medication management services for patients with certain chronic illnesses, like hypertension and diabetes.

The program also dispenses lower-cost medications and conducts SDOH screenings to better understand SDOH barriers complicating medication adherence for patients. PQA said the program addresses the cost of medications, cultural or literacy barriers, and screening of unmet needs SDOH.

These programs are successful because they rely on the pharmacist as a trusted advisor to the patient. Many patients managing chronic illness visit their community pharmacists about once per month, highlighting the role of the pharmacist in patient education, medication management, and overall patient experience.

Through these collaborative programs, pharmacists can also be instrumental in addressing the social determinants of health that disrupt patient care access and medication adherence, PQA reasoned.

“This is the first resource guide that catalogues pharmacist and pharmacy-centered SDOH services,”  Amanda Ryan, PharmD, BCGP, CPHQ, the education director at PQA, said in the press release. “It provides health care professionals with ideas and examples of SDOH services they can implement in many different settings and adapt to their communities’ specific needs.”

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