UB awarded grant to help pharmacies build community health worker programs

Innovative program could lower costs for patients while helping them better access pharmacy services

BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo researchers have received a grant from the Community Pharmacy Foundation to help add community health workers to pharmacies to better connect patients to critical services and lower health care costs.

Community health workers are public health workers that serve as liaisons between health care services and the public. Not typically utilized in pharmacies, these frontline workers have the potential to improve patient care through community outreach and education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy.

Through the grant, investigators will develop a toolkit and payment model that guides pharmacies through embedding a community health worker program into practices, as well as analyze each program’s impact.

The research – a collaboration between the UB School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Networks (CPESN) USA, L&S Pharmacy in Charleston, Missouri, and Four Corners Pharmacy in Delmar, New York – is led by UB faculty members David Jacobs, PharmD, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacy practice, and Christopher Daly, PharmD, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice.

“Pharmacists are often considered to be the most accessible health care professional in the community, and gaining access to a community health worker can be a barrier to those in need,” said Jacobs. “As pharmacies evolve, diverse support staff are needed to assist in patient care activities. Community health workers represent the perfect solution for many of these support needs, particularly in regards to complex patients with multiple health and behavioral conditions.”

Additional investigators include Tripp Logan, PharmD, and Richard Logan, PharmD, co-owners and pharmacists at L&S Pharmacy; John Croce, co-owner and pharmacist at Four Corners Pharmacy; and Troy Trygstad, PharmD, PhD, executive director at CPESN.

The Community Pharmacy Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing pharmacy practice and patient care delivery through grant funding and resource sharing.

Start small and expand

In other health care settings, community health workers have helped improve health care quality while reducing costs. Health care systems save more than $2 for each dollar invested in a community health worker program, says Jacobs.

The positive impacts of community health worker programs also include reducing health disparities, expanding access to coverage and care, improving care quality and increasing health care cultural competence.

Existing programs are supported by four financing models: charitable foundations; Medicaid; federal, state or local governments; and private organizations.

Pharmacies commonly find that reimbursement for providing additional clinical services is challenging. A practical approach to obtaining reimbursement for community health worker programs may be a “start small and expand” model, where pharmacies obtain buy-in and patient engagement from their surrounding community, then expand that to county, region, state, then finally national stakeholders, says Daly.

“For this model to expand, community pharmacies need to be educated about community health worker programs and provided with the necessary tools and templates to manage them,” said Daly. “A toolkit will provide interested pharmacies with evidence to support the program and the necessary infrastructure to start developing a local community health worker program.”

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