Oncology treatment innovations have transformed cancer into a chronic disease. As such, patients with many tumor types can live longer in the community setting. As a result, many patients will need to assume responsibility for managing both their overall care process, as well as their medications, which are increasingly available in oral dosage forms. This can be overwhelming for any patient who has been diagnosed with cancer, particularly for patients who are further challenged with low health literacy or other barriers related to social determinants of health.
Oncology patients are typically treated, managed, and supported by their oncology prescribers and nurses, other specialists, and specialty pharmacies. However, depending on the frequency of visits or refills, patients may experience questions or concerns in between those scheduled touch points. Community pharmacists remain one of the most accessible and trusted healthcare professionals for all patients. While many community pharmacies are not able to dispense oncology medications due to limited pharmacy networks and/or specialized handling requirements, there are still opportunities for retail pharmacists to support oncology patients.
Community pharmacies can leverage their regular patient interactions to support oncology patients across the patient journey1:
- Screening: Pharmacists can identify patients who are appropriate for cancer screening based on demographics and risk factors, educate those patients on the importance of screening, and even connect those patients to screening services. Walgreens recently expanded its digital platform to connect patients to at-home colorectal screening.2
- Drug-drug interactions: Many patients with cancer have other comorbidities, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Community pharmacists can catch drug-drug interactions when medications are added/changed for other conditions. Because oncology medications are likely dispensed from another pharmacy or site of care, it will be important for the community pharmacy to understand the entire medication profiles of these patients.
- Adverse events: The visibility and accessibility of community pharmacists could make them the first healthcare professional with an opportunity to identify a potential adverse event due to an oncology treatment. For mild adverse events, the pharmacist could provide a recommendation for how to manage them. For moderate to severe adverse events, the pharmacist can support a timely referral of the patient back to their oncologist or specialty pharmacy or even recommend seeking emergency care when needed.
- Clinical trials: Community pharmacists may also have the ability to help connect oncology patients to clinical trials. CVS Health recently launched Clinical Trial Services to support patient recruitment for clinical trials and real-world evidence generation. By leveraging their large community presence, CVS hopes to support increasing diversity in clinical trial populations by increasing patient access to trial opportunities.3
Effective patient engagement by community pharmacists can help to support both patient diagnosis through screening promotion, and persistent patient adherence to treatment through identification of adverse events or medication regimen issues. Manufacturers should look for opportunities to provide branded and unbranded education to community pharmacists related to counseling instructions and side effect management for oncology medications. Because community pharmacists are extremely busy and must be knowledgeable on a wide variety of conditions, manufacturers should consider targeted opportunities to partner with community pharmacies.
- Lewis J. How to support cancer patients in community pharmacies. The Pharmaceutical Journal. 2017;298(7899): doi: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202377
- Walgreens Find Care® introduces new service providers to address need for comprehensive healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. BusinessWire. Published March 4, 2021. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210304005252/en/Walgreens-Find-Care%C2%AE-Introduces-New-Service-Providers-to-Address-Need-for-Comprehensive-Healthcare-During-the-COVID-19-Pandemic
- Minemyer P. CVS Health launching new business arm to drive greater clinical trial participation. Fierce Healthcare. Published May 25, 2021. https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/cvs-health-launching-new-business-arm-to-drive-greater-clinical-trial-participation