Q&A with a University Health pharmacist

University Health pharmacist Irene Vargas answers common questions and shares how your local pharmacist can help you manage your medications.

What are all of the different ways a pharmacist can help a patient?

We ensure that all the prescriptions we receive are the appropriate therapy and fit the patient’s needs. We take time with each patient to review their medication history and work with other providers to ensure they’re receiving the most appropriate therapy.

We also provide vaccinations for COVID-19, hepatitis and the flu. Due to the pandemic, a lot of the pediatric community and elderly community fell behind on their immunization records.

We take the time to set up meetings with our patients, especially our elderly community, to help them understand medication management. They take a lot of medications, and they’re not going to understand all of them. We have one-on one-meetings with them to go through every medication with them.

How do you help patients with payment options?

Many people in the community we serve are not able to afford a copay because they’re on a very fixed income. Their copay can be waived, even if they have private insurance. We call it a financial hardship. University Health is not going to let you go home without your medication.

For patients who use our facilities, doctors and pharmacies, we have a savings program. It’s like GoodRX, but often provides better discounts. When they visit our facilities, we can decrease their copay. If they can’t afford their medications with these discounts, we’ll still give it to them.

For patients who go to offsite doctors, we have a whole acquisition cost savings program. Even though the medication will cost a little bit more because they’re not using our facilities or our physicians, we can still provide that service to them.

What are the most common questions you get from patients and how do you answer them?

“Do I have to take this with food?” There are specific medications that, if taken with food, it decreases the effectiveness of the medication. No question is a dumb question. For example, some medications for patients with cancer have to be taken without food or 30 minutes before food in order for it to be effective.

Patients who take other medications, like herbal medications, ask, “Do these interact with other medications I’m taking?” We go through their list of prescription and oral medications. We have so many pharmacists on hand that we’re able to take the time with each patient and answer those questions.

How do you help a patient manage multiple medications?

We can give our patients pillboxes, and we have different colored ones for people who can’t read or write. We’ll also write in big, bold letters. Some of the medications have to be split in half, so we’ll provide them with a pill cutter. These are all for free.

We’ll say, “These are your morning medications, and the top slots of the pillbox are for the morning. These are for your blood pressure.” If they don’t know how to read or write, we’ll help them identify their medications by their color or shape. We’ll go through their whole pillbox with them.

We have different types of pillboxes, depending on how many different medications a patient is taking. If they have pills they have to cut in half, we provide them a pill cutter and show them how to use it.

The patient may be diabetic and might not know how to use a blood sugar meter, so we walk them through it as well. We also show them videos and then ask them to do it on their own before they leave to make sure they’re doing it correctly because some of them have to take their own insulin as well.

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