Pharmacists Are the Cure to NY’s Doctor Shortage

By Tom Corsillo | June 18, 2024

Have you struggled to get an appointment with your doctor lately for a routine issue? And when you’ve finally gotten one, did it feel like you got only a few minutes of facetime? If so, you’re not alone.

For years, experts have been sounding the alarm about an anticipated doctor shortage that will not only impact New York, but the entire country. Patients are already waiting longer to see their primary care physician, with many struggling to find one in the first place. And this problem will only grow as our population continues to age. While not a silver bullet, new legislation recently signed by Governor Hochul could lay the foundation for a creative and viable solution that would help to ease this complex health care problem.

Two new regulations give New York pharmacists the ability to dispense an extremely common class of medications, Hormonal Contraception (birth control), as well as administering long-acting injectable medications that treat mental health and substance abuse disorders. But these are not the only prescription medications that pharmacists are equipped to dispense. Treatments for upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, eye infections, and HIV are among those pharmacists might administer in the near future under a test to treat model that would enable pharmacists to test patients for common, highly contagious conditions and then dispense the appropriate treatment.

This approach could be a game-changer for patients who could access needed medications without scheduling a doctor’s appointment. It would free up physicians, allowing them to spend more time with patients and to focus on more complicated conditions. Consider any of the contagious conditions mentioned above and imagine not having to go to a doctor, wait for test results, then to the pharmacy and wait for medication, all while you’re very contagious and potentially put others at risk. A “one-stop-shop approach.” And it would properly acknowledge the medical expertise that pharmacists have.

Pharmacists complete a rigorous, (at minimum) six-year course of study to obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and must also secure a state-specific license following a completed internship and state board examinations. They are well-trained health professionals and are the most accessible health care providers, with patients visiting their community pharmacies many times more often on 10 times to 1, than they do their doctors.

Recognizing this expertise would also help community pharmacies continue to serve patients as they navigate the increasingly challenging economics of the pharmacy profession. Specifically, abusive practices by powerful prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), which control how much pharmacists are reimbursed for fulfillment of their prescription medications, mean community pharmacies today are actually losing money on many prescriptions. Allowing pharmacists to practice at the top of their license would be a lifeline for them, while providing needed, readily accessible healthcare for the public. It makes so much sense.

If New York were to expand the ability of pharmacists to dispense specific medications, it would not be the first state to do so. States like New Mexico, Oregon, Florida, and North Carolina have given pharmacists the authority to prescribe select medications. 

 Being able to dispense birth control is a vital first step, but pharmacists are more than just retailers, as they demonstrated throughout the height of the COVID 19 pandemic when they proved their value by testing and immunizing millions of New Yorkers.  

 New York’s 20,000 pharmacists are essential health care providers who could be part of the solution to address the dearth of medical professionals, with many clamoring for the opportunity to take on this expanded role. They’ve earned that right. It’s time New York granted it.  

Tom Corsillo is head of public affairs at Marino and spokesperson for the New York City Pharmacist Society, which represents pharmacists across the five boroughs.