How are you [pharmecists] perceived by patients and the general public?


By: MTM Pearls
Published in American Pharmacists Association

On July 4, one of my colleagues forwarded me an opinion piece written by APhA President Matthew Osterhaus, BSPharm, FASCP, FAPhA, to the Des Moines Register, a statewide newspaper in Iowa. Osterhaus’s column focused on the importance of pharmacists being recognized as providers by federal law and CMS.

My initial response after reading the column was pride. I was happy that Osterhaus broached the topic in a very public forum. But then another colleague asked what I thought of the comments from readers who responded to the article.

Public perceptions of provider status

Below I paraphrase some of those readers’ comments.

  • One reader, who appreciated the expertise of pharmacists, was unsure of Osterhaus’s point but commented that if pharmacists receive “an insurance cut,” this could increase medication costs.
  • A couple of readers wrote that they “didn’t get it,” with one indicating that he goes to a chain pharmacy where the pharmacists only ask for his address to make sure he is the right person or if he has taken these medications before. But the reader added that he gets his influenza vaccinations and blood pressure taken at the pharmacy.
  • One reader, from what I could understand from his comments, indicated that the prescriber is the health care provider who prescribes and explains medications to patients. He wrote that pharmacists “just double-check the order” and are just a “fail-safe for the system, not the patient.”
  • A pharmacist who appeared to work in a health system wrote that “retail pharmacy is a poor representation of what clinical pharmacy is all about.” Unfortunately, his comments make it sound as though only hospital-based pharmacists are clinically oriented. This reader did not seem to know that clinical pharmacy and medication therapy management (MTM) services already exist in many community pharmacy practices.
  • One reader saw value in pharmacists but was concerned that provider status could cause medication costs to increase. Three readers didn’t really see any value in pharmacists, and one didn’t understand the kind of services Osterhaus’s pharmacy offers. One reader’s response seemed especially critical and cynical about pharmacists and their role in health care.

While I know these few readers’ views are not representative of what voters across the country think, their perspectives should not be ignored.

Change perceptions with each patient encounter

The readers’ views did not come as a surprise to me—although I wish they did. All of us have to remember that our patients’ perceptions are their reality. In that light, what can each of us do during every patient encounter to change our patients’ perceptions and realities?

  • Do your patients see a pharmacist who consistently provides prospective medication reviews to ensure that patients are receiving safe and effective medications?
  • Do they see a pharmacist who identifies and resolves drug therapy problems?
  • Do they see a pharmacist who works collaboratively with other health care providers to ensure that patients are achieving positive health outcomes?
  • Do they see a pharmacist who counsels patients on both new and refill prescriptions to ensure that patients are taking their medications as prescribed and are informed consumers of their own health care?
  • Do they see their pharmacist providing clinical services, including MTM, immunizations, health screenings, or medication adherence services? 

Doing your part

Our profession is fighting for provider recognition by federal law so that pharmacists can be fairly reimbursed for clinical services. Obviously, having public support will help us achieve this recognition—but only if you do your part to change your patients’ perceptions.


This article was chosen because it discusses American’s negative perceptions of pharmacists. It’s also interesting because it shows the shock of the writer, a pharmacist, in this perception. It was sad to see that the comments the writer was reviewing were brutal, in which some commentators did not see the value in having a pharmacist. Then, there seemed to be a stigma of drugstore pharmacy as lesser in the pharmaceutical profession. Overall, these perceptions can cause patients to lack pharmaceutical literacy because they don’t value the expertise of their pharmacist.