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community impact

Phone-a-Pharmacist Telepharmacy programs are educating patients on medicine and educating students on people. By Athena Ponushis Jed Swackhammer shows up to work early. As a student pharmacist at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, Swackhammer works at the Medication Management Program (MMP), calling patients across the country to review their medications. In the beginning, they may not like him, but by the end of the call, they thank him. And every day, Swackhammer leaves work feeling like he has made a difference. Swackhammer checks for drug interactions, missing medications or duplicate medications. He looks at costs, to see if there might be generic options. Patients gain a greater understanding of how to take their medications, when to take them, when not to take them and when to follow up with their doctors. “There is no routine patient,” Swackhammer said. “That’s what I have been able to experience at the MMP.” Such telepharmacy programs reveal how healthcare today extends beyond the physician’s office or pharmacy counter. Telepharmacy allows pharmacists, or future pharmacists, to reach patients in their homes, where they can open up their medicine cabinets and about their concerns. An old-fashioned phone call has become an innovative continuum of care. Students are able to hone their counseling skills, practicing different methods of motivation to encourage medication adherence. They see how health conditions and corresponding medica-


Academic Pharmacy NOW  2017 Issue 5

tions they have learned about in the classroom play out in a real life. Above all else, they are able to ask a patient, “How are you feeling?” That might sound like a small question, explained Dr. Milap Nahata, director of the Institute of Therapeutic Innovations and Outcomes with oversight of MMP at OSU, but asked in an office setting, where patients know they only have a block of time, they may just answer with a cordial, “Good,” not wanting to be a bother. Therein lies the beauty of telepharmacy: Pharmacists and pharmacy interns ask, “How are you feeling?” over the phone, where time is suspended. And patients, in the privacy of their homes, tend to get personal. “Sometimes they share their life story,” Nahata said.

Optimal Health Outcomes, Only a Phone Call Away The OSU-MMP started in 2014 with a crew of two professional staff, one intern and one student. Now there are nearly 40 professional staff and 130 students, 80 of those being pharmacy interns, working at the MMP, helping more than 3,000 patients each week. “Although I saw a need for our service and expected it to grow, I had no idea that it would grow so quickly,” Nahata said. The OSU program was modeled after the Medication Management Center (MMC) at The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, the collegiate

pioneers of telepharmacy. The MMC opened there in 2006, after the articulation of the medication therapy management movement was made to help patients be smarter and safer with their medications. Software was developed to keep a continual analysis of the medications patients were using and identify any potential problems. This led to the spinoff of SinfoníaRx, a Tabula Rasa HealthCare Company, an industry leader in MTM. SinfoníaRx has four call centers, including the OSU-MMP and UA-MMC, with a fifth center on the way. The company keeps track of the number of interventions made and money saved since its inception. As of early October 2017, more than 1.5 million drug therapy problems had been solved and more than $1 billion healthcare dollars had been saved, per the real-time counter on the company’s website. Dr. Osamah Eljerdi, a recent UA graduate who worked at the MMC, found telepharmacy could make a difference for so many because it can transcend transportation barriers, overcome language barriers and empower patients. “I’ve had patients cry at the end of a call. They tell me that their doctors don’t understand them, their families don’t know what to do, and that they’re so grateful for the medication review. They ask, “What am I taking this for?’ ‘What does this do for me?’ and ‘How does this help me get better?’” Eljerdi said. “I think that understanding their medica-

Academic Pharmacy Now: 2017 Issue 5  
Academic Pharmacy Now: 2017 Issue 5  

Diverse Universe: Pharmacy schools are preparing future pharmacists to be inclusive and ensure that everyone receives the care they need.