When’s the last time you had a chat with your pharmacist? If you’re like many Americans, it has been a while. That’s unfortunate because pharmacists are invaluable resources and play important roles in your personal healthcare team, alongside doctors, nurses and other professionals. They are worth getting to know for their expertise and ability to help you live your best life and help the loved ones under your care.
Jennifer Motchnik has been a pharmacist for 20 years. Based in New Jersey, she is the manager of pharmacy compliance packaging for Rite Aid, one of the country’s leading drugstore chains with more than 2,500 stores in 17 states. She enjoys talking to people about their medication and health needs, offering solutions and guidance on a variety of topics from vaccinations to medication management and nutritional supplements. “The most gratifying part of my day is having those types of conversations with patients,” she says. “You get such a sense of satisfaction when you feel like you’ve made a difference.”
Invaluable members of your healthcare team
And yet, there is still a common perception that pharmacists just dispense medications. While that is part of the role, there is so much more. Pharmacists in the United States are highly educated. To get the professional doctorate in pharmacology (Pharm.D.) required, they study for a minimum of six years, plus on-site training, clinical placements and an extensive board exam. “Over the years, the focus of pharmacists has changed,” explains Motchnik. “It’s not about just filling the prescription you have before you. We are more of an integral part of a patient’s healthcare team now than ever before.”
The tools available have also evolved and a preventative approach is taken to health. For example, Rite Aid pharmacists use a comprehensive software system that generates notifications based on patient profiles. For example, it may indicate that a patient who turns 50 has become a candidate for the shingles vaccine, or it could flag prescription medications that haven’t been picked up or refilled. Those notices serve as ideal conversation starters between a pharmacist and a patient.
Another critical service that pharmacists provide is medication therapy management. “We have many services that patients are unaware of,” she explains. Motchnik encourages patients to book a one-on-one review of their medications with their Rite Aid pharmacist. “We make sure medications are taken correctly. If they aren’t, because of something like side effects or concerns about cost, we try to find solutions.” When issues around medication adherence do come up, she may suggest a blister pack card that packages doses of multiple medications in clear plastic bubbles or blisters.
Pharmacists provide solution-focused expertise
This type of medication adherence packaging is something new to Rite Aid and was introduced as part of a pilot project that began with three states – New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. “We’re letting customers know that this is another tool available to them in their toolbox for managing their health,” Motchnik says. “We train pharmacists that, when they see someone with multiple prescriptions or buying plastic pill organizers, to suggest that blister cards are a really good option for them. Medications are separated into AM and PM blisters. Everything is right there for customers. It helps not only with adherence, but also prevents medication errors. And the blister cards are better than having to wrangle seven or eight individual vials.”
In the year-and-a-half since medication adherence packaging has been introduced, she has noticed a big impact. “We’re seeing more customers picking up their medications and an increase in medication adherence, especially among drug classes like statins, oral diabetes medications and ACE inhibitors used to treat hypertension,” she explains.
“there is still a common perception that pharmacists just dispense medications. While that is part of the role, there is so much more.”
Another benefit is the increased engagement between pharmacists and patients who come into the pharmacy monthly to get their blister cards. Motchnik sees it as an opportunity to check in with them to see if there have been any changes with their prescriptions, check for duplications and to talk to them about other services available, like a medication review or immunizations. “It’s a great way to start a conversation with our customers and give them the knowledge they need to empower themselves. We can help them understand why they’re taking a certain medication and the importance.”
She recommends that patients stick to one pharmacy so the pharmacist can get to know them and their needs. For example, when someone who is a diabetic asks for a recommendation for a cough syrup, pharmacy staff can check their profile and suggest a sugar-free formula. “It starts by talking to your pharmacist,” says Motchnik. “We may look busy, but having that engagement with patients is the most fulfilling part of our jobs. Don’t hesitate to ask us questions. Whether you’re wondering about alternative therapies, or looking for ways to take prescription medications correctly, we are there to help.”
Produced with support from Jones Healthcare Group.