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HOUSE CALLS

Pharmacy students connect with WCMC patients via phones

By Jeanni Brosius

This article was published November 10, 2011 at 3:41 a.m.

— In a small conference room at White County Medical Center in Searcy, tables lined each side of the room. Fourth-year pharmacy students from Harding University in Searcy and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock picked up the phones at their stations and made calls to patients who had been released from the hospital, just like the students do every Tuesday and Friday mornings.

“What could we have done better?” Cameron Alt asked a patient on the other end of the phone.

Alt, a student at Harding, said the calls she makes for the hospital help her learn how to relate to the patients and solve problems.

“When [the patients] ask me a question, I have to think on my feet,” she said. “We get a lot of different personalities on the phone, and you have to adapt.”

The call center, which opened a little more than a year ago, benefits the students, the hospital and the patients, said Shannon Hays, clinical coordinator at WCMC.

“I don’t believe many colleges or schools of pharmacy have this type of patient call center in place as an integral part of transition from inpatient to outpatient care,” Dr. Julie Hixon-Wallace, dean of the College of Pharmacy, said in an email. “In fact, I don’t believe it is something that many hospitals have in place, much less is it led by pharmacy services or conducted utilizing the services of pharmacy students and faculty.”

About 12 pharmacy students come to the hospital from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Fridays to make calls to approximately 60 patients who have been discharged from the hospital within two to four days. The students have a script provided to them by the hospital, and the calls not only provide welfare checks for the patients and experience for the students,but give the hospital invaluable feedback on its services.

A copy of the patient’s discharge papers that detail any medication changes are faxed to the pharmacy of the patient’s choice. Hays said this service is an attempt to solve the disconnect between the hospital and community pharmacies.

“The idea was brought to my attention, but we would never have enough pharmacists to do that,” Hays said. “It’s a good learning opportunity for the students and a good service for our patients. … We pass information on to administration or the nurse manager; we pass on the positive as well.”

One of the questions the students ask is whether the patient was able to get his or her prescription filled.

“If it’s a cost issue, we will try to find the patient an assistance program or a lower-cost alternative,” Hays said. “The goal is to help patients make a successful transition to home and to help them stay well once they leave the hospital.”

Hays said the calls take anywhere from five minutes to half an hour. Sometimes the calls are appreciated by the patients, but there are times when they may be too busy to talk, Hays said.

The students have access to computers to look up medications, side effects and other information to answer questions that may arise during a conversation with a patient.

“I believe participation in this type of call center broadens the students’ perspective on the great role they can play as pharmacists in helping people transition from inpatient to outpatient care,”Hixon-Wallace said. “Many pharmacists, especially those in typical community pharmacy settings, don’t always consider the obstacles presented during periods of transition of care like when people are discharged from the hospital back to their homes. I believe our students will have a greater appreciation for what they can do to assist people as they make these transitions and will feel more empowered as part of the health care team in this setting.”

Upon graduation, the students will have earned a Doctorate of Pharmacy degree. They must then pass the state board of pharmacy licensing exam and apply for a license.

Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or jbrosius@arkansasonline.com.

Three Rivers, Pages 49 on 11/10/2011

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