Pilot Program

Workforce Assessment of VA Home-Based Primary Care Pharmacists

Many clinical pharmacy specialists use global scopes of practice that allow more autonomy to provide direct patient care.

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Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) is a unique interdisciplinary program within the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) that specifically targets veterans with complex, chronic disabling diseases who have difficulty traveling to a VHA facility.1 Veterans are provided comprehensive longitudinal primary care in their homes, with the goal of maximizing the veteran’s independence. Clinical pharmacists are known as medication experts and have an essential role within interdisciplinary teams, including HBPC, improving medication safety, and decreasing inappropriate prescribing practices.2,3 Clinical pharmacy specialists (CPSs) within the VHA work collaboratively but autonomously as advanced practice providers assisting with the pharmacologic management of many diseases and chronic conditions. The remainder of this article will refer to the HBPC pharmacist as a CPS.

The CPS is actively involved in providing comprehensive medication management (CMM) services across VHA and has the expertise to effectively assist veterans in achieving targeted clinical outcomes. While the value and role of CPSs in the primary care setting are described extensively in the literature, data regarding the CPS in HBPC are limited.4-6 Therefore, the purpose of the assessment was to evaluate the status of the HBPC pharmacy workforce, identify current pharmacist activities and strong practices, and clarify national variations among programs. Future use of this analysis may assist with standardization of the HBPC CPS role and development of business rules in combination with a workload-based staffing model tool.

Background

The role of the pharmacist in the HBPC setting has evolved from providing basic medication therapy reviews to an advanced role providing CMM services under a VHA scope of practice (SOP), which outlines 8 functions that may be authorized, including medication prescriptive authority.7 The SOP may be disease specific (limited) but is increasingly transitioning to have a practice-area scope (global), which is consistent with other VHA advanced practice providers.7 Effective use of a CPS in this role allows for optimization of CMM and increasing veteran access to VHA care.

The VHA employed 7,285 pharmacists in 2014.8 Many were considered CPSs with prescriptive authority. These pharmacists were responsible for ordering more than 1.7 million distinct prescriptions across the VHA in fiscal year 2014, which represented 2.6% of the total prescriptions that year.7 A 2007 VHA study also demonstrated both an increase in appropriate prescribing practices and improved medication use when CPSs worked in collaboration with the HBPC team.9 With this evolution of VHA pharmacists, there has been an increase in the use of CPSs in HBPC and changes in staffing ratios to allow for additional clinical activities and comprehensive patient care provision.1

The HBPC model serves a complex population in which each veteran has about 8 chronic conditions.1,10 An interdisciplinary team consisting of various health care professionals, such as physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, registered dietitians, psychologists, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, etc, work collaboratively to care for these veterans in the patient’s home. This team is a type of patient-centered medical home (PCMH) that focuses on providing primary care services to an at-risk veteran population who have difficulty leaving the home.1 Home-based primary care has been shown to be cost-effective, reducing average annual cost of health care by up to 24%.10 Another study showed that patients using HBPC had a 27% reduction in hospital admissions and 69% reduction in inpatient hospital days when compared with patients who were not using HBPC.11

The interdisciplinary team meets at least once weekly to discuss and design individualized care plans for veterans enrolled in the program. It is desirable for pharmacists on these teams to have special expertise and certification in geriatric pharmacotherapy and chronic disease management (eg, board-certified geriatric pharmacist [BCGP], board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist [BCPS], or board-certified ambulatory care pharmacist [BCACP]) due to the complexity of comorbidities of these veterans.12 Additional education such as postgraduate pharmacy residency training also is beneficial for CPSs in this setting.

The CPS proactively performs CMM that is often greater in scope than a targeted disease review due to multiple comorbid conditions that are often present within veteran patients.1 These comprehensive medication reviews are considered a core function and must be performed on enrollment in HBPC, quarterly, and when clinically indicated or requested by the team.13 Sufficient time must be allocated to the CPS in order to provide these high-quality medication reviews. Additional core functions of the CPS are outlined in the functional statement and/or SOP, but responsibilities include CMM and disease management. This typically consists of prescribing and/or adjusting medications, as well as providing patient and caregiver education, which can be performed either face-to-face or via telehealth visits (eg, telephone and video). A CPS also may make home visits to assess the veteran, either independently or with other disciplines of the HBPC team.

The HBPC Subject Matter Expert (SME) workgroup was chartered by the Veterans Affairs Central Office (VACO) Pharmacy Benefits Management Service (PBM) Clinical Pharmacy Practice Office (CPPO) to explore pharmacy practice changes in the HBPC setting. This workgroup serves as clinical practice leadership within the HBPC setting to provide expertise and lead initiatives supporting the advanced practice role of the HBPC CPS.

As HBPC programs expanded throughout VHA, it was paramount to determine the current state of HBPC pharmacy practice by collecting necessary data points to assess uniformity and better understand opportunities for practice standardization. The SME workgroup developed a voluntary yet comprehensive survey assessment that served to proactively assess the future of HBPC pharmacy.

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