By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Organizers of a new, federally funded project coordinated by the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s College of Pharmacy hope to reduce the number of adverse prescription drug reactions in Hawaii, which can especially plague the elderly.
The project, known as Pharm2Pharm, will be aimed at building teamwork between hospitals and community pharmacists in rural areas, according to a Friday news release from UHH. The ultimate goal is to cut down the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits as a result of preventable medication reactions.
Community pharmacists do much more than simply dispensing medications to their customers, and are an especially important resource when providing care to seniors, according to Douglas Hoey, executive vice president of the National Community Pharmacists Association.
“Community pharmacists play a critical role in providing quality care to the nation’s 40 million seniors by ensuring safe and appropriate medication use, as well as providing specialized services such as immunizations and compounding,” he wrote in a January letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
“Before the medication reaches the patient, pharmacists evaluate patient profiles to monitor for drug allergies and catch potential dosing errors, duplicative therapies, and drug-drug interactions. Pharmacists also advise patients on the side effects, safety, and efficacy of all the medications they take, including over-the-counter products and supplements, which are often taken in combination with prescriptions.”
Because community pharmacists are easily accessible to patients, they are in a good position to ensure that the correct medications are being administered and that they are being used by patients correctly, he added.
Hawaii, and especially the state’s more rural areas like the Big Island, can benefit from a greater inclusion of community pharmacists in an elderly patient’s system of care, said Dr. Karen Pellegrin, director for the College of Pharmacy’s Center for Rural Health Science. She will be charged with overseeing the operation of the Pharm2Pharm project over its three-year period.
“Charges for medication-related hospitalizations and ER visits among the elderly in rural counties of Hawaii add up to about $60 million per year,” she said. “We believe that by advancing the role of the community pharmacist and improving collaboration and communication with hospital pharmacists, we can lower those costs and improve patient care.”
In the state’s three rural counties, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii, there were more than 15,000 medication-related ER visits and more than 700 medication-related hospitalizations among elderly patients in 2010, according to the Hawaii Health Information Corporation.
According to Pellegrin, the $14.3 million in federal funding will be used in those three counties to provide more health information technology to increase communication between community pharmacists and hospitals from the time a patient is admitted or discharged.
“We can increase the chances of patients staying healthy after a hospital visit by raising the visibility and effectiveness of both community and hospital pharmacists as members of a health care team,” she said.
She added that she expected patient satisfaction and medication safety to be improved for all high-risk patients in rural Hawaii within the first year of Pharm2Pharm.
Community pharmacy partners on Hawaii Island include: Shiigi Drug Co., Ululani Pharmacy, Kamehameha Pharmacy, Oshima Store, Menehune Pharmacy, Lifeway Pharmacy-Waimea, and KTA Pharmacies.
On Friday, UHH officials touted the federal grant as proof that the College of Pharmacy has been and will continue to be a driving force in improving health care options for area residents.
“This award recognizes the important role the faculty in Hawaii’s College of Pharmacy at UH-Hilo play in supporting quality health care in the state,” Chancellor Don Straney wrote in a an afternoon email.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.