Pharmacy ‘Test & Treat’ Will Improve Health Care Access For NY Communities

By State Sen. Gustavo Rivera & Assembly Member John T. McDonald III | June 4, 2024

As New York comes off another busy flu season, this time marked by a stubbornly contagious strain amid an outbreak of whooping cough, the need for more convenient access to basic healthcare services is clear. Fortunately, a set of bills we introduced in Albany will give us an opportunity to expand access to care, and we urge our colleagues to act on them before this legislative session ends.

These bills (S3467A/A6627B and S7839/A8596) would give New York communities greater access to basic healthcare services by allowing pharmacists to administer rapid diagnostic tests for common illnesses, such as the flu, COVID-19, strep, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and prescribe treatment on the spot. People feeling under the weather would be able to easily make an appointment at their local pharmacy, get tested, and walk out with the medication they need to feel better — rather than hoping for an appointment with their primary care physician or wait in a long line at an urgent care clinic.

Making it easier to quickly treat these types of conditions can also have broader benefits for our state’s health care system, as indicated by research on pharmacy-based care. It has the potential to help reduce strain on our already-overcrowded emergency rooms while reducing wait times for patients and enabling hospitals to prioritize more serious cases, which can save valuable health care dollars down the road.

To date, 18 states have enacted test and treat legislation, which has shown to be an affordable and safe way to increase health care access in communities, including in historically underserved rural areas. With approximately 90% of Americansliving within five miles of a pharmacy, walk-in patient access and extended hours make pharmacists the most accessible healthcare professionals in many geographic areas.

As several pharmacist associations — including the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York and Community Pharmacy Association of New York — recently noted, pharmacists have extensive training and expertise to provide initial care upon receiving a positive test result. Studies have shown that as the shortage of primary care providers widens, access to care utilizing non-physician providers is a proven strategy to bridge the gap toward equitable access to care.

In community pharmacy settings in the U.S. and around the world, many pharmacists already use collaborative practice agreements to provide patients with access to affordable and expeditious screenings, treatment initiation, and medication management for many minor or acute ailments and chronic health conditions.

Moreover, pharmacists have a long history of serving as the first point of care for many patients, especially those who are underinsured and uninsured. The U.S. Public Health Service, for example, has used pharmacists since 1930 to provide direct patient care and improve health outcomes for underserved and vulnerable populations. Clinical pharmacists currently serve in direct patient care roles within the Indian Health Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the United States Coast Guard in many states.

In the face of physician shortages and growing demand for primary care providers, pharmacists are well-equipped to fill the gap. Data shows that patients, on average, visit their community pharmacy about ten times more than they see their physician, and access to pharmacies improves overall community health outcomes.

Recognizing the long-standing value pharmacists serve, our fellow state lawmakers must make it easier for New Yorkers to access basic care by passing our test and treat bills this session.

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera represents the 33rd Senate District in The Bronx. Assembly Member John T. McDonald III, RPh, represents the 108th Assembly District, which includes parts of Albany, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties.