“This is my third hospitalization in the last two years, and I’ve never seen a pharmacist. It’s very hard to believe that pharmacists are taking part in patient care. I know they do, but they’re always in the background.”
THIS RESPONSE TO A SURVEY about patient expectations of hospital pharmacy services was no surprise to Philip K. King, Pharm.D.
King first noticed this common perception among patients as a pharmacy student while on a five-month rotation at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Patients were always surprised to see a pharmacist in their room,” said King, who is now a first-year resident at the 319-bed University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC), Toledo, Ohio.
“Many were shocked to learn that pharmacists were involved in patient care. They just didn’t understand that idea,” he said.
“I don’t want them to be surprised. I want them to know we are an important and accessible presence who can have a major impact on their care.”
Increasing Pharmacists’ Visibility
Judging by the results of a pilot study that he conducted, King seems to have found a simple and effective way to ensure that patients know what pharmacists can do for them.
King put into motion a plan he had drafted as a pharmacy student and polished up with the help of his residency research advisor. The goal? Increase awareness of pharmacy services among hospital patients.
King contacted ASHP to see if the Society had any programs or resources available that could help him increase the visibility of pharmacists and raise patient satisfaction with medication-use services.
“It was a timely call because we had just launched the ‘Let’s Talk Medications!’ program, which is designed for both hospitals and other health care sites, such as ambulatory settings,” said Ellen Wilcox, director of ASHP’s Public Relations Division.
“We were very excited that Dr. King reached out to us just as we were initiating the program. His hospital became the first in the nation to roll it out.”
Steven J. Martin, Pharm.D., BCPS, FCCP, FCCM, professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at UTMC and King’s residency advisor, believes there is great value to a program like “Let’s Talk.”
Once patients recognize that pharmacists are available on a consulting basis, they “naturally understand that we are drug experts. And when they want expert medication advice, patients want to talk to a pharmacist,” he said.
Martin noted that patients are simply unaware that there are pharmacists throughout the health care system involved in their care.
“We tend to fade into the woodwork, and we need to step up our practice so that patients know we’re there and available to help them,” he said.
King went to work using materials supplied by the “Let’s Talk” initiative, which included brochures and posters that describe pharmacist services in the hospital. During the month-long campaign that began October 1, 2013 (coinciding with American Pharmacists Month and National Hospital and Health-System Pharmacy Week), pharmacy students, residents, and staff pharmacists delivered brochures to as many admitted patients as possible and told them that pharmacists were available around the clock to answer questions.
The brochure included the direct phone extension to the inpatient pharmacy. Posters were displayed near elevators and in the nearby outpatient pharmacy. All program material was customized so that it included hospital-specific information.
“We wanted to target more than just patients, which is why we put posters up at main entrances and elevators,” said King. “Patients aren’t likely to see the posters placed in those areas, but family members and other health care providers are, so they’ll know that we have a presence in the hospital, too.”
Striking Survey Results
The study included two cohorts: patients who were exposed to the campaign and a control group consisting of patients who were admitted during the month prior to the campaign.
Patients from both groups who met the study inclusion criteria were asked to complete a 12-question survey. Participants also were free to add comments, such as the one at the top of this story which was written before the patient was exposed to the campaign.
Of the 147 control patients who returned their surveys, only seven (4.8 percent) contacted a pharmacist for help. Of the 140 patients exposed to the campaign who returned their surveys, 63 (46 percent) requested information from a pharmacist.
Just as striking were the preliminary survey results. For example, 57 percent of respondents in the control group “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement, “Pharmacists are available for me in the hospital,” compared with 92 percent of patients who had been exposed to the campaign. King is currently working on a full statistical analysis of the results as well as an assessment of how the program might influence HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) patient satisfaction scores.
“The results so far have been very encouraging, but it’s clear that we need to do much more as pharmacists to educate patients and other health care providers about our role in patient care,” said King, adding that he hopes to conduct a long-term campaign in the future. “This campaign can begin that conversation, but it needs to be done on a much larger scale and for a much longer time to have the impact we want.”
–By Steve Frandzel