There's a new trend sweeping the nation. Well, it's not brand new. But it is hard to miss the growing interest in this pharmaceutical phenomenon.

Hospitals are recognizing the benefits of incorporating an outpatient pharmacy program into their comprehensive health services offerings. Rather than simply leasing space to or integrating services from major chain drug stores, hospitals are choosing to own and operate these pharmacies themselves.

These new settings offer new job opportunities for pharmacists and technicians, as well as an added revenue stream when proper strategies and programs are implemented.

Outpatient pharmacy services, when properly integrated with hospital discharge procedures, can reduce one of the leading causes of hospital readmissions: patient failure to fill their prescriptions.

Christine Collins, director of pharmacy associated with several Rhode Island hospitals was quoted in a recent HealthLeaders article, commenting on their outpatient pharmacy service: "We can deliver the medications right to the patient's bedside before they are discharged. This is not only a convenience, but it also provides a major safety enhancement by ensuring that the patient actually fills their prescription."

Reducing 30-day hospital readmissions — a significant financial concern that will continue to expand in coming years — is only part of the value that ambulatory pharmacies offer to hospitals and health centers.

AmerisourceBergen, a provider of ambulatory services through their Pharmacy Healthcare Solutions business, describes this growing trend as helping to "enhance the patient experience, increase medication compliance and ultimately improve organizational financial performance. It can also help you expand into the community to create new revenue streams, build brand loyalty and create lasting relationships."

But the investment into a well-integrated outpatient pharmacy is significant, regulations can be complicated, and the profitability isn't automatic. Success depends heavily on good planning and good people.

Bob Bepko, a director of pharmacy for a Connecticut hospital with an outpatient pharmacy program says this in an article entitled "Making retail pharmacy work for the hospital": "You need a good business person to manage the business and staff who can understand the reimbursement rates and interactions with the insurers."

This is something that hospitals must not ignore.

As a career avenue, the opportunity to work in an integrated outpatient pharmacy within a hospital offers several distinct advantages for the motivated pharmacist. Participation in transition committees, interacting with surgical and emergency department staff, and interacting with hospital employees about the benefits of utilizing the pharmacy are just a few of the potential opportunities. Software systems can be configured to allow outpatient pharmacy access to important patient records to optimize their services.

But the biggest benefit is for the patients themselves. Nothing is more annoying than having to leave the hospital after a significant surgery, possibly in an unfamiliar city, and trying to find a pharmacy to fill your prescription on the way home. Then there is the waiting, and there is always the possibility of them not having the medication or the need for a prior authorization that further complicates the process.

A fully-functioning "meds to beds" program (as it is sometimes described) eliminates the worries, inconvenience and treatment failures that can result from not having this service available.

While the profession of pharmacy is eagerly looking for new avenues to offer beneficial and financially cost-effective services, outpatient pharmacy is worth a second glance. Maybe this is the next big pharmacy frontier.