U-trained pharmacists take on new roles

University data from the Fairview program shows it can save money, and a similar study in North Carolina also had positive results.

Dylan Thomas

Instead of just dispensing medications, pharmacists being trained by the University and working at Twin Cities’ Fairview hospitals are taking a greater role in patient care.

Reflecting a nationwide trend, pharmacy students and professionals here are forging closer ties with patients by monitoring how well the drugs work and helping patients better understand the medications they are using and why they are using them.

University research on Fairview’s pharmaceutical care program indicates it benefits patients’ health and reduces overall health care costs.

Michael Frakes, a pharmaceutical care specialist at Fairview Pharmacy Services, said University research shows 25 percent of patients taking any kind of medication have a problem with that medication.

He said University data on Fairview’s pharmacy services shows an average of one discovered problem per visit among those taking four or more medications.

Frakes said sometimes patients are confused about which medication treats which symptom or patients skip doses because of the side effects or expense of a drug. Pharmacists help patients understand the dangers of not using medication correctly and work with them to find other solutions, he said.

Brian Isetts, a University pharmacy professor, trains the pharmacy students working with patients in the University’s Pharmaceutical Care Clinic. Students use a systematic interview process to discuss medications with patients and record them in a University-developed database.

Health care savings

Both Frakes and Isetts are convinced pharmaceutical care programs can save on overall health care costs and are working to get such care covered by insurance or included in health care plans.

“If we get patients on the right medicine, get them to take them correctly so they’re working, what ends up happening is we are able to reduce the hospitalizations and other big-ticket health care costs,” Isetts said.

University data from the Fairview program shows it can save money, Isetts said, adding that a similar study in North Carolina also had positive results.

“We have enough data that we can virtually guarantee people we will save them money,” Frakes said. But convincing employers and insurers of the ties between careful monitoring of drug therapies and overall health care costs is difficult, as the two are often considered separately.

“The result of keeping them separate has made it harder for pharmacists to get paid for this because the savings are not on the drug side; they’re on the medical side,” Frakes said.

State Senator Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, has been working on legislation to include pharmaceutical care in Medicare and Medicaid programs, based on the promising results of several state pilot projects. She said the current budget climate, along with cuts to state health-care programs, makes it an uphill battle.

Right now, the service is available at six Fairview clinic locations in the Twin Cities. The clinics will soon be offering discounts as a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift, which is fitting for a program providing “the same care a pharmacist gives his mother,” Frakes said.

Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]