LUBBOCK, Texas — Folks like Tim Purser, Director of Pharmacy for United Supermarkets, said for many people, the healthcare provider they see the most is a local pharmacist. 

“A lot of times, whether it be in a rural setting or in a or in a bigger city setting, they’re able to approach their pharmacists, ask for advice whether be OTC recommendations, or suggestions and additions,” said Purser. 

Eric MacLaughlin, with the Department of Pharmacy Care at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy, said that personal interaction and help play a large role in why recent pharmacy closures are so concerning, especially in smaller communities.

“When pharmacies close, it does leave a gap in that community,” said MacLaughlin. “Patients being able to get care and get their medicines in in a timely manner, and to talk with a pharmacist becomes much, much more difficult.”

The distance to the nearest pharmacy determines whether you’re in a pharmacy desert or not. However, experts say that can vary depending on whether you live in an urban or rural area. While the impacts may be more noticeable in these smaller communities, those residents aren’t the only ones who experience this problem firsthand.  

“Pharmacy deserts are an issue both for rural and urban communities alike,” said MacLaughlin. “One mile doesn’t seem like much, especially out West Texas, but if you got to walk in the snow or you got to walk, I mean, that’s a problem.”

MacLaughlin said one of the biggest focuses of the care pharmacists provide is preventative, and for those who don’t have easy access to their medication, it really can mean life or death.

“If you think about the number of folks with high blood pressure, they don’t have symptoms, but if they don’t get their medicine filled… their blood pressure is not controlled,” described MacLaughlin. “And over the long term, while they might not be symptomatic initially, that’s a major leading cause for strokes, heart attack and death.”

While these growing gaps don’t help with ongoing struggles from the pandemic, both MacLaughlin and Purser said things they learned during COVID-19 have continued to help them move forward. 

“Over the years, we’ve tried to do outreach, whether it be to provide services such as immunization, mobile immunization services to these communities that may not have a pharmacy provider, but really just our footprint in itself allows us to access communities that may be underserved from a health care perspective,” said Purser. 

If you’re in a pharmacy desert, MacLaughlin said there are other options, like mailing prescriptions. He says Texas Tech is continuing to improve its tele-pharmacy access as well.