Pharmacy tackles big underlying health obstacles
It takes a village to raise a child.
Many retail chain and independent pharmacies are heeding this proverb, as evidenced by the extent to which they are working fervently to address the social determinants of health, as well as the health disparities that impact many patients in the communities they serve.
To be sure, tackling the varied and complex circumstances that affect many of these patients’ lives is a Herculean task, one that requires innovative strategies and investments to yield a cornucopia of benefits.
It appears that retailers are leaving no stone unturned, pursuing strategies that include delivering personalized care, launching medication therapy management and medication adherence programs, partnering with community and religious leaders, collaborating with health systems, offering free health screenings and addressing transportation and food security issues.
CVS Pharmacy’s HealthTag pilot program in Louisiana and West Virginia provides proof on the importance of encouraging a dialogue between pharmacists and patients. The program allows pharmacy employees in those locations the ability to deliver personalized messages when patients pick up their prescriptions.
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“The community services are organized by Unite Us, a leading social care coordination platform that is collaborating with Aetna to help some of our most vulnerable members more easily access social services within their community,” Ferrick said.
The Unite Us HealthTag pilot program is designed to have pharmacy employees help close lifestyle gaps for patients. “By analyzing Aetna Medicaid’s claims data, we can identify patients who are filling their prescriptions at CVS pharmacies that are participating in this pilot program,” she said.
When those patients come to a CVS Pharmacy to pick up their prescription, the HealthTag opportunity alerts the pharmacy employee to talk with the patient about program options through Unite Us that meet their lifestyle needs. Once a patient is enrolled in the Unite Us platform, they’re connected with community-based organizations to help address their specific needs.
“The community-based organizations also can help with issues that aren’t as directly connected to a person’s health, but certainly have an influence on their well-being, such as housing services in the area,” Ferrick said. “Through this program, we’re able to improve the health of individuals and communities by providing people who need help the most with local resources through a trusted person they see on a regular basis, such as their pharmacist.”
CVS Health also is engaging with its members in vulnerable communities more often, using communications channels they are likely to see and respond to, such as text messages instead of emails or phone calls.
Lewis Drug’s Ladwig concurred that having conversations with patients is crucial, but many people are too busy and they don’t ask for help.
“How can we as pharmacists be good stewards of our ability to contact patients to get them to be better patients?” he said. “We are trying through MTM, but the biggest obstacle is that when we ask people for consultations on medications, they often say, ‘I’m fine, I don’t need anything’ and don’t get engaged in the conversation. Pharmacists want to help people to be healthier. That’s the bridge, and it’s what we emphasize.”
To that end, Lewis Drug also made an investment to offer its Smart Pack compliance pill pack and Smart Sync adherence packaging to patients for free, although the pharmacy does not receive reimbursement. “We bought a machine years ago, and are doing the packing at fill operations,” Ladwig said. “It’s a huge win for patients, especially daughters who are caregivers. The No. 1 reason people are hospitalized is because they don’t know how to take or understand their medications or the side effects.”