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Debate Continues Over Calif. Law To Expand Role of Pharmacists

Some physician groups are raising concerns about a new California law that gives pharmacists more responsibilities, arguing that expanded scopes of practices could negatively affect patient safety, HealthyCal reports.

The law is aimed at addressing California's physician shortage (Richard, HealthyCal, 2/11).

Background

Only 16 of the California's 58 counties have the supply of physicians recommended by the federal government.

In addition, the Association of American Medical Colleges says that nearly 30% of California's doctors are nearing retirement age.

The California Legislature in September 2013 approved a bill (SB 493), by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), to expand the scope of practice for pharmacists to help boost access to health care (California Healthline, 9/17/13).

Once California State Board of Pharmacy protocols are approved, the law will allow pharmacists in the state to perform certain medical services, such as providing routine vaccinations and certain prescription drugs for travelers.

Law Draws National Attention

According to HealthyCal, the California law has drawn national attention.

Frank Ciesla, a New Jersey health care attorney, warned that treating pharmacists as primary care providers could put patients' health at risk and affect medical malpractice law.

He said that pharmacists "don't go through four years of medical school and then three to five years of a residency program that gives you a certain level of knowledge," adding, "If the pharmacist makes a mistake, will we be able to hold the pharmacist to the same standard as we hold the physician?" (HealthyCal, 2/11).

Some Physician Groups Express Concern

Meanwhile, some physician groups have raised concerns about the changes in scope of practice, Kaiser Health News reports.

For example, the American Medical Association said that it supports physician-led teams that include pharmacists but that it does not approve giving pharmacists prescription privileges without the supervision of a physician.

The California Medical Association, however, supports the law, but only after certain amendments were added that limited the medications pharmacists could prescribe to patients.

Pharmacists Respond

According to KHN, pharmacists say they do not want to take over the responsibilities of primary care physicians but rather to participate in a team-based approach to care (Gorman, Kaiser Health News, 2/11).

Jon Roth, CEO of the California Pharmacists Association, said the law is a step forward for pharmacists who will now be able to use their education and training in full capacity. He added that the measure "fundamentally changes the face of health care, where the pharmacy becomes more than just a place where you pick up medications" (HealthyCal, 2/11).

This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
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