October 27, 2020
AUBURN, Alabama - With a shortage of health care infrastructure, hospitals and specialty clinics in rural areas, significant health disparities exist for people in those communities. For many, the most accessible and well-positioned health care provider is the community pharmacist.
To help address this issue and provide innovative solutions, the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Dr. Salisa Westrick is collaborating with counterparts at the University of North Carolina, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, University of South Carolina and the University of Mississippi to create the Rural Research Alliance of Community Pharmacies, or RURAL-CP.
RURAL-CP is a network of more than 100 rural community pharmacies spanning five southeastern states and is the only network of its kind in the United states. Network members collaborate with colleges and schools of pharmacy to identify and address societal, community and professional issues that relate to medication use and pharmacy practice.
“Prescription medications are key components of American healthcare and pharmacists play a critical role in dispensing these medications, educating patients and ensuring patient safety,” said Westrick, Sterling Professor and department head in the school’s Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy. “In an area where there is no pharmacy, residents will not have timely access to prescription drugs nor access to pharmacists where they can consult with when they have questions about their medications. Therefore, our work is to build strong evidence of the value and the impact of pharmacist on patient outcomes in rural communities.”
The project is headed up by Dr. Delesha Carpenter at North Carolina’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Working with Westrick at Auburn are fellow faculty members Dr. Lindsey Hohmann and Dr. Natalie Hohmann, along with students NeCall Wilson, Robert Alongi and Kavon Diggs.
With more than 25 rural pharmacies already enrolled, Westrick and her team are continuing to work through the on-boarding process for network members, including a site survey and visit.
“These pharmacies and the academic institutions work together to identify and prioritize critical health concerns in rural communities,” said Westrick. “Together, we will identify and refine the solutions, assess the effectiveness and feasibility of the solutions and then disseminate the outcomes to various stakeholders.”
By joining the network, pharmacies will have access to continuing education programs and workshops addressing areas such as seasonal and non-seasonal immunizations, operations during a pandemic, naloxone counseling, medication therapy management for special populations and more.
The work in the network pharmacies will also drive multiple research projects, testing the effectiveness of certain interventions.
“These network pharmacies will serve as demonstration sites for innovative pharmacist-led services and the patients whom they serve can and will benefit from these interventions,” said Westrick.
Living up to Auburn’s land-grant designation, Westrick and her team are working to improve the health outcomes of Alabamians through the network. With insurance practices and low profit margins on medications making it difficult for some rural pharmacies to stay open, the program provides an opportunity for members to diversify services and find new ways to generate revenue.
“Payments to community pharmacies and pharmacists for clinical services are not common and we hope that RURAL-CP can serve as a catalyst to change the reimbursement landscape for community pharmacists’ services and allow pharmacists to get reimbursed for clinical services they provide in their pharmacies,” said Westrick.
“It is also important to recognize that community pharmacies in rural areas are critical components of the community. By assisting rural pharmacists and pharmacies, we ensure that Alabamians in rural areas continue to have access to their pharmacy and their trusted pharmacists.”
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 25 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School's commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn's overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.