ZoomCare to Again Pursue Legislation Allowing Physician Assistants to Dispense Medication
January 5, 2012--ZoomCare’s business model of providing same-day appointments for basic preventive and acute care from physician assistants has fascinated many who’ve watched the company’s quick growth in Portland.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t faced detractors. Citing concerns about patient safety, pharmacy groups around the state stopped legislation earlier this year that would have allowed ZoomCare’s physician assistants to prescribe bottled, non-narcotic medications.
But now the Oregon State Pharmacy Association is giving its cautious support to a revised version of that bill, which is expected to come before the Legislature’s upcoming February session.
“We’ve had a lot of good meetings with the pharmacy coalition to get a consensus bill,” said Len Bergstein, ZoomCare’s lobbyist. “I’m very optimistic.”
There are two key differences. The first is that a new category of “drug outlet” would be created, called a “practitioner’s dispensing outlet,” that would include any ZoomCare clinic that dispenses medications. Drug outlets are licensed with the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, and are required to comply with the board’s regulations on storing, labeling and handling medications.
The second change is that ZoomCare will be required to contract with a licensed pharmacist, who’ll be in charge of complying with the Board of Pharmacy’s regulations. The pharmacist will also train ZoomCare’s physician assistants, review their dispensing records, and ensure that the physician assistants communicate with patients about any other medications they’re taking and educate them about the new drugs.
Those changes are enough to be supportive, said Bill Cross, the lobbyist representing the Oregon State Pharmacy Association. “We’re concerned about patient safety,” he said, adding that the original bill did “not have a lot of oversight or regulation.”
If the bill passes, ZoomCare can only prescribe bottled, non-narcotic medications, such as common antibiotics and analgesics for acute care and basic preventive illness.
“We’re not going to be able to carry a full pharmacy,” said Dr. David Sanders, ZoomCare’s founder and CEO.
The ability to dispense medication will make it easier for ZoomCare’s patients to receive good healthcare, Sanders said. “We think it’s important for our customers to be able to come in and get everything they need.”
If the bill passes, it will be one of many ways the clinic has grown and expanded. This summer, ZoomCare opened its first clinic in Seattle; its ninth clinic in Portland is expected to open in Lake Oswego next month. Other clinics are also planned for the Portland area, Sanders said.
ZoomCare has also introduced a new feature on its website allowing patients to schedule their own appointments, online, at any of its clinics. “It’s as transparent as you can get,” Sanders said.
He attributes ZoomCare’s success in the Portland area to patients’ appreciation of “this sense of immediacy, transparency and the price.”