Colin Powell Addresses Health-System Pharmacists

Retired general and former secretary of state Colin Powell discussed his thoughts on the US healthcare system and the role pharmacists play within it during his keynote address at the ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting.

In the keynote address at the 2013 American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting in Orlando, retired general and former secretary of state Colin Powell shared his thoughts on the US health care system and how pharmacists can play a bigger role and improve access to care.

Gen Powell noted that he has received decades of quality medical care through the military, including a comprehensive annual physical examination. This takes about half a day, whereas the remaining “364.5 days of the year,” he said, is largely in the hands of pharmacists. “You are my health care provider from when I get up and I take my blood pressure medicine, and I take my cholesterol control medicine, and I take my reflux medicine, and you are always there for me when I need refills or advice,” said Gen Powell. “I know you’re debating whether the Social Security Act should be changed to call you this or call you that. But all I know is you’re my health care provider every single day of my life, and I thank you for that.”

Gen Powell described a recent health scare involving his wife of 51 years, Alma, who had titanium coils implanted in her head to block off a number of aneurysms. Alma, like Gen Powell, has blood pressure issues. He said he was impressed with how well the medical team coordinated her medication care. “They were constantly adjusting what she was getting to relieve her pain or deal with a problem that she had,” said Gen Powell. “And because she has other health issues, it had to be constantly monitored, and that monitoring was done not only by the medical doctors there, but also by the pharmacy staff.”

However, many people in the United States do not receive care at this level, he said. Gen Powell shared the story of a woman who sells him firewood near his home in northern Virginia who had medical difficulties around the same time his wife did. This woman needed a magnetic resonance imaging scan to help diagnose a brain disorder, but did not have the money to pay for it. Gen Powell explained that although he helped her get the care she needed, he came away from the experience reminded of the importance of every American having access to quality care.

“I keep saying to myself, ‘I don’t know anything about Obamacare. I don’t know anything about the Affordable Care Act. I don’t understand any of this. I’m an infantry officer—we tend to see things rather directly and simply,’” Gen Powell said. “And what I see rather directly and simply is that every American should have coverage of some kind. I don’t care what you call it. I don’t care how you actually organize it, but surely we have people throughout this audience and elsewhere throughout the medical system and in our Congress who could put together a system that would give us universal health care.”

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