The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruling discussed in the July 11 article "Pharmacies don't provide health care, Supreme Court rules" might give your readers the wrong idea about the role of pharmacists in assisting patients with their health care needs.
The court ruled that pharmacies are not one of the health care providers covered by a West Virginia statute that imposes a damages cap in malpractice lawsuits. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents nearly 35,000 pharmacies with over 100,000 pharmacists, disagrees with the court's flawed decision. But more importantly, for the sake of the public health we hope patients will not misunderstand the court's decision.
The court simply interpreted a narrowly drafted damages cap law -- it did not hold that pharmacists are unimportant to the health care system. Even the plaintiffs in the lawsuit agreed that "pharmacists are clearly professionals" who specialize in dispensing medications and providing drug counseling.
Community pharmacists are in fact among the most trusted health care professionals in the nation, serving on the front lines to assist patients with their health care needs. They undergo years of rigorous training in pharmacy schools where they learn how to provide important health care services. Much of a pharmacist's time is spent interacting with patients, identifying possible drug interactions and advising how to best use medications.
West Virginia licenses pharmacists as health care professionals. They are recognized as health care providers in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, and a West Virginia law specifically lists pharmacists as "health care providers".
So despite the court's flawed decision, patients can continue to rely on the community pharmacists they know and trust to help provide their health care needs.
Steven C. Anderson, IOM, CAE
President and CEO
National Association of Chain Drug Stores