Pharmacy aims to help customers track medication more easilyPatients who take prescription medications correctly have better health outcomes
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Every prescription comes with directions. Ranging from a simple “take once a day for five days,” to more complicated instructions detailing diet and frequency, following those directions is a problem for an estimated one-third to one-half of all patients in the United States, according to a 2009 study by the New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI).
While following prescription guidelines may seem like common sense, medication adherence is a huge issue, to the tune of $290 billion in avoidable medical spending per year, NEHI estimated.
Patients with chronic diseases – which affect more than half of all Americans – are particularly susceptible to spotty adherence practices that leave them vulnerable to otherwise unnecessary hospitalizations and additional medical risks. According to one study of diabetes and heart disease patients cited by NEHI, mortality rates among patients who did not adhere to their medications were nearly double the rates of those who took their medications as prescribed.
“If you’re on multiple medications, it can be especially difficult,” said Bob Narveson, president of the Thrifty White Pharmacy company, on a visit to Cloquet last month. “We have people on up to 21 different medications. So how do you help them keep track of all those and take them correctly?”
According to Narveson, employee-owned Thrifty White has two different programs to help customers take medication correctly. First, the company launched a program to synchronize patent prescriptions, so all reoccurring prescriptions can be refilled on the same day.
“We have more than 15,000 patients on the [synchronized prescription] program,” Narveson said, noting that the Cloquet pharmacy alone has 400 customers on the “med sync” program. “Then patients don’t have to make multiple trips to the pharmacy, we’ll get them all at one time for you.”
Rebecca Snead, executive vice president /CEO of the National Alliance of State Pharmacies Association, said synchronized medication programs are still fairly unique, but are getting more popular across the county.
“I think they’re gaining momentum because they put patients at the center of how meds are organized,” Snead said. “They make it easy for them.”
Narveson said Thrifty White recently completed a six-month study on its program and found that patients with the synchronized medications were three to eight times more adherent.
“I know it’s only a six-month study, but the results are good,” he said.
Now the company is launching a second program – called Healthy Pack RX – for customers who have already synchronized their prescriptions. The new program organizes a customer’s medications into individual packets that are labeled with medication, day, date and time to be taken. The time of day to take the medication is noted at the top of each packet, and the packets roll out of a box in the correct order, making it even more difficult for a patient to get confused about which medications he or she needs to take next. Medications can be organized in the packets for up to 30 days. There is no additional charge for the Healthy Pack, Narveson said.
Nat Willgohs, local Thrifty White pharmacy manager, is optimistic about the new program.
“The No. 1 problem with treating illness today is a patient’s failure to take prescription medications correctly, regardless of patient age,” Willgohs said. “By synchronizing all your prescriptions into the new Healthy Pack RX packets, patients will be healthier and more compliant, as each packet is labeled with the medication, day, date and time to be taken so our patients can take the right medication at the right time.”
Using a packet system for medications also eliminates the issue of keeping track of multiple pill bottles and is helpful for people who travel a lot. Taking a long weekend at the cabin? Just rip off the next four days’ worth of prescription packets and rest easy knowing that you haven’t left anything out.
Narveson said the new programs should also give the pharmacist more time to interact with patients.
“The No. 1 goal is healthier patients,” he said. “Adherence isn’t just having prescriptions ready for you. It’s also about trying to free up time a pharmacist to work with the customer.”