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The Constant in the Patient Care Equation

Jun 03, 2014

Christene M. Jolowsky,
M.S., R.Ph., FASHP

Editor’s Note: The following inaugural address was given by new ASHP President Christene M. Jolowsky, M.S., R.Ph., FASHP, at ASHP’s Summer Meetings in Las Vegas, June 3, 2014. Jolowsky is Executive Director for Applied and Experiential Education and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, College of Pharmacy in Minneapolis. Her full address will appear in the August 15 issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy

I AM EXCITED TO BE HERE TODAY and for the opportunity to serve as ASHP’s President.

We all know that journeys like this are not made alone. So, at the very outset, I would like to thank my peers, mentors, work colleagues, my family, and my pharmacy friends for being there with me and for me. You know you all mean a lot to me.

And a special shout out to the ASHP staff, whom I have gotten to know well these past years.

I have a few specific people to mention, and I am so thrilled that they are able to be here today.

My three sisters… Terry with her husband, Ken; Ellie with her husband, Scott, and their son, Ben; and Julie who is here with her husband, Marty, and their daughters, Sandy and Sam. Although my older brother Steve couldn’t be here today, I know that he supports me fully.

Also here today are my in-laws Eileen and Allen Jolowsky, and my husband’s sister, Jeri and her husband Lloyd, and their children Brianna and Jared; and my cousin, Jackie!

My parents are gone, but I know they are here in spirit. They were always very proud of me and my brother and sisters and our accomplishments, and today is no exception.

Last, but obviously not least, I want to thank my husband, Mike, and my lovely daughters, Claire and Nora, who mean so much to me. You are my joy, my rock, and my sanity when things get hectic.

The Cheshire Cat

Today represents the chance to share my point of view and philosophy, and to let you know a little about who I am and to promote ASHP. In preparing, I turned to the wisdom of a favorite author from childhood, Lewis Carroll, who wrote one of my favorite books, Alice in Wonderland.

Carroll’s writings are known to be a little quirky but also thought-provoking. I’d like to share this conversation between Alice and The Cheshire Cat that I think is quite instructive for us, as pharmacists today:

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.”

This brings me to THE question for us to think about today: Where are we going, as pharmacists, as a profession? This question is followed by: How should we get there? And who do we need with us along the way?

Where Are We Going?

Unlike Alice, we care very much about where we’re going.

My destination—and from talking to my colleagues, I understand it’s your destination, too—is recognition for the value and the work we do as pharmacists…. recognition through provider status, to validate pharmacists as full members of the patient care team.

So, if “provider status” is the where, how will we get there?

We can best build a road map by paying close attention to the landmarks we need to hit along the way. What are the basic requirements for patient care? What are the practice models and patient care marks we need to pay attention to?

Of course, if we just want to get “somewhere” near provider status, then we can afford to wander around a bit.  But that’s not our goal. “Somewhere near” isn’t close enough for us or for our patients.

Solving for “X” 

We have a very clear destination in mind: a place of better patient care and more recognition for the value we bring as medication experts. Which means we must be very deliberate and strategic about the steps we take to get there. Advocacy will be a key part of our success, and ASHP plays a crucial role in this.

The Society is helping to create a roadmap that we can all navigate together. Even if we are traveling at different speeds, we must all be heading in the same direction.

To do this, ASHP is guided by the expanding practice in ambulatory care, identifying new practice models, and creating tools to get us there. But first, let me give you a little background about where I’m coming from.

I mentioned earlier that my parents are no longer with us. But as with all parents, they shaped who I am. And their guidance helped to shape the pharmacist I’ve become.

There are three main values that my parents instilled in me and my siblings:

First was the importance of getting involved and helping others. These were not just words to them. They really lived it. Both of my parents were active in the community. My father gravitated to leadership positions, especially within the American Legion. My mother didn’t want her name in lights, but she rolled up her sleeves and helped wherever it was needed. Her mantra was,”You’re here, make yourself useful.” My brother and sisters and I learned the importance of leadership and service as well as the value of participation and teamwork.

Second, my parents shared their true passion for getting involved and the important role that passion plays in our work. If we are passionate about something, we will be motivated to get involved and stay involved. And, lastly, they always stressed the importance of education. All of us kids knew we were going to college—it was not even an option! This instilled in us the passion for life-long learning and growth.

Which is why I always made sure I was available to help my girls with their homework (whether they liked it or not!). And math was where I could help them the most. But this presented some challenges because math when my kids were little was taught differently than how I learned it! Yet the math problems are still the same even if we approach it in different ways, right?

We had to get on the same page if I was going to help them understand these complex math problems without too much frustration.

For me, math could always be distilled to small, simple equations. In each equation, there is always some “constant,” some “variable,” and some element that is missing. And we are all familiar with “solving for x.”

I was thinking about the different approaches to math problems, and I started to look at my professional life through this same prism. My first thought was to “solve for what’s missing.”

“Solve for x.” What does that mean for pharmacy practice? Well, during a recent intraprofessional meeting, we discussed who the members of the healthcare team are and their roles. I looked at the participants and started wondering who was missing. Who else should have been there? Who NEEDS to be present to learn from what we are doing? And how do we bring our value, as pharmacists, to those people who were not in the room?

The same could be asked from an organizational perspective for ASHP. As we continue to advance practice across the continuum, who needs to be at the table? Are we fully engaging our members? Potential members? Students? Pharmacy technicians? And other stakeholders?

What else do we need to do to make sure we are connected with each other within ASHP, as well as with external stakeholders, to be most successful in moving practice forward?

In my work at the college, I talk to students all the time. They often ask me about how I got involved with ASHP. I share the decisions I made as my career developed to follow my passion for advancing practice.

I stress the value of networking with peers and potential mentors. And I emphasize the importance of tapping into the knowledge and expertise of those around you. These are all values that lead us where we want to be.

Which brings us back to Alice in Wonderland: If you don’t know your destination, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” It is the involvement, the sharing, and the passion that helped define that destination for me.

New Pharmacy Equation

So all this thinking about life in the context of math problems brings me to this new equation: Pharmacist involvement in “X” times passion = Better patient care and more recognition of pharmacists’ value.

In solving this equation, we are faced with many variables:

  • ­   Grassroots advocacy efforts,
  • ­   Support from decision makers,
  • ­   Recognition from payers,
  • ­   The need for quality improvement, and
  • ­   The need to follow patients along the ENTIRE continuum.

There are also several constants in our equation, including the strength of our practitioners, including new and future pharmacists, and advanced clinical practices.

What other information is missing, in order to solve the equation?

  • ­   Recognition as providers?
  • ­   A common understanding of the value of pharmacists?
  • ­   The need to continue to advance our knowledge and training?

All of these variables, once figured out, multiplied by passion make this equation solvable!

Pharmacists as the “Constant”

Let’s take this to another level. I believe that pharmacists are the “constant” in the patient-care equation. We are present in every care transition and practice setting.

Not too long ago, pharmacists’ approach to care was focused on the patients when they were in front of us. But that didn’t take into account what was going on in the whole life of our patients. Often, we didn’t have that information.

Our patients are no longer “snapshots in time” as they come in and out of our care.

But today, our focus is on the whole patient and their entire life, along the full continuum. This is going to shift our mindset regarding patient care. Our patients are no longer “snapshots in time” as they come in and out of our care. We were accustomed to handing our patients off to other healthcare settings. But increasingly, we are in those other settings. We need a consistent patient care delivery model that includes discharge planning and follow-up care for patients… a model that extends from the hospital to long-term care to ambulatory clinics and back, as necessary.

And what are we doing at ASHP to support this? ASHP is focused on achieving provider status, working at the state level to expand our scopes of practice, and growing its tools and resources to help us be better practitioners.

Now, some of these settings may represent environments that we are not familiar with. Yet this is exactly where our value is amplified by working with other members of the healthcare team.

Pharmacists as the constant in solving patient care problems provided me with a new way of thinking about my own career. I served in leadership positions in health-system pharmacies for more than 25 years. Early in my career, I knew that I wanted to be in a position that would create change. And it was clear that leadership roles would provide me with that opportunity.

One of the things I especially enjoy is organizational management—figuring out what works to improve patient care and safety and what doesn’t, whether it has to do with education, engineering, or technology.

How does my career path, which took me in a direction I did not originally foresee, reconcile with my imperative today that we must keep our destination in mind? It demonstrates that we must be open to adjusting the path to get to our destination.

At my college, I find that students are certainly focused on their destination—graduating, residencies, finding their first jobs, and making themselves marketable—all of which is understandable.

Yet in their rotations and into their residencies, I encourage these students and new practitioners to focus on the skills they are learning which will serve them well into the future. That’s why I am very passionate about promoting residency training because it provides a positive and supportive environment that fosters the critical thinking and decision making skills that are needed in pharmacists today.

Likewise, ASHP is working hard to expand residencies and support board certification, understanding that these skill sets will help students stand out in their future careers, and provide a framework for employers to see what is special about them as individual practitioners.

Solving the Problem

So, let’s go back to the time I sat at the table helping my daughters Claire and Nora with their math homework. When we want to solve our professional pharmacy problems, we need to ask the same questions that I asked my daughters:

  • ­What is the value that we are given?
  • ­What is the known entity or constant in the equation?
  • ­And what (or who) is the missing element in the equation?

To solve the problem, I hope I have you thinking about the value of the role of pharmacists. We have to establish ourselves as the constant in the equation. That means we must have a handle on some big concepts, such as:

  • ­What are the needs of the patient?
  • ­Where is the pharmacist?
  • ­What are the gaps in our care delivery system?

This equation analogy continues with finding the missing element. What, or in our case, who, is missing from the equation?

Ask this question as you participate in the meetings here this week. We have the Medication Safety Collaborative, the Informatics Institute, and the Pharmacy Practice and Policy meetings.

Look around while you are in these meetings and ask yourself, how can we reach out to people who are unable to attend and connect them with the rich content of the meeting?

There are people who need to be here so that they can benefit from the great information and networking that are available. Are we doing all we can to bring them into the equation?

Specifically, where are the students, residents, preceptors, fellow colleagues (maybe in different practice settings), staff pharmacists, and technicians? There is value here for them all:

  • ­Value in participating, or even simply observing, our policy process through the House of Delegates,
  • ­Value in hearing the inspirational words from our Whitney award recipient and ASHP Past-President John Murphy,
  • ­Value in the education that’s offered here this week,
  • And, of course, value in the unique networking opportunities.

And you can ask these same questions about ASHP. How do we involve more pharmacists as members? How do we involve more ASHP members in the organization’s activities and initiatives so that they get the full value of belonging to ASHP? You truly only get out of membership what you put into it. We need to encourage more members to be fully engaged so that they get the most value from their membership.

And let’s keep going with this part of the equation. Who is missing from our practice experiences? Are all of the stakeholders accounted for? What about the patients and their caregivers? Are we including them in the decision-making about their own care?

What about our own administrators, and regulators, and legislators—both local and national—who hold so much sway over what we can do and how we do it? We need to make sure that all missing elements are solved and in place. That way, we’ll be able to work together to achieve the best outcomes for our patients.

Clearly, this is a complex, seemingly endless equation that few have actually solved. We are still working on it! It is critical that we do NOT give up on this one.

As we make important decisions about policies, therapies, and what the future of pharmacy should be like, we must ask ourselves: Are we fulfilling our role as the constant in the patient-care equation?

When decisions are being made about medication use in our practice settings, are we present, visible, and easily available wherever the patient is? In today’s healthcare environment, we need to focus on the patient’s care across the entire spectrum. The days of treating a patient for a few days in the hospital and waving goodbye with best wishes as they leave clutching their prescriptions are over.

Equivalent Equation

All of this brings me to another equation I want to share with you today. It’s an equivalent equation: The Future of ASHP = the Future of Practice.

As I start my presidential year, I am absolutely thrilled with the direction of ASHP. There is so much to be excited about:

  • Our new mission, vision, and strategic plan, which focuses on all patients and all aspects of care.
  • ­ The Pharmacy Practice Model Initiative, including its recent work in the ambulatory care arena.
  • Our efforts to achieve provider status.
  • Our new brand and logo, which represents us as a contemporary, strong, forward-thinking organization.
  • Our growth in members, which means that more and more practitioners are finding the value of being part of ASHP.
  • Our work to help members manage critical practice issues like drug shortages and compounding.
  • The tools and resources ASHP creates to help us in our daily practice.
  • And ASHP’s work to partner with others to further our influence on public health policy and advance your role as healthcare providers.

Where Are You in the Pharmacy Equation?

So, let’s go back to my first pharmacy equation. First, I want you to ask yourself: How do I fit into the equation?

Are you the constant of the patient-care equation in your work site? And what about your professional associations? Are you fully engaged at the state and national level? There are so many ways to get involved to advocate for your patients, advocate for change, and improve your patient care setting.

One great way to do that is to make your presence known on ASHP Connect, the organization’s social network, where you can contribute to profession-wide discussions about critical practice issues. Always ask yourself, “How can I share my knowledge, experience, and wisdom with others to improve their patient-care practices?”

Next, make sure you know where you are going! Find your path, and adjust it as needed. When I started my career, I didn’t set out to lead key professional initiatives, or to be a director of pharmacy, OR president of ASHP. I did, however, set out to do something I was passionate about. I wanted to make an impact.

When I started my remarks today, I talked about Alice in Wonderland and the idea that if you don’t have a destination, you’ll certainly wind up SOMEWHERE, but maybe not where you’d LIKE to be.

Well, I can assure you that as a profession, we know who we are and where we are going! We are the members of the healthcare team who need to be part of every decision regarding medication use.

And as an organization, ASHP also knows who it is and where it is going, leading the way on PPMI; provider status; our vision, mission and strategic plan; and our focus on the entire continuum of care (including ambulatory practice).

We are moving hand-in-hand with you toward providing the best care for our patients and ensuring that pharmacists are recognized as the constant.

So, let me end with one more equation to solve, with pharmacists as the constant:

   Pharmacists

+ Residents

+ Students

+ Technicians

+ The healthcare team

+ Patients

= Best Patient Care

Today, I’ve asked a lot of questions. And I have just two more.

In looking at this, where are you in this equation? Are you the constant in your practice setting? It’s time to take our place as the constant in patient care!

Let me know what you are doing to improve patient care in your organization. Be sure to email me at prez@ashp.org.

Thank you for all that you do to keep pharmacists as the constant in the patient-care equation!

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  • John A. Armitstead

    Thanks for making the equation solvable! Best wishes in your Presidency and for leading the ASHP down a defined path! Pharmacists advancing healthcare!