Patients see pharmacists as their neighbors and as trusted health care professionals, putting them in a prime position to offer advice regarding heart disease prevention.
February is American Heart Month, dedicated to raising awareness of the impact of heart disease and measures that can be taken to prevent it. Pharmacists are in a unique position to help in this effort, as Scott F. Giberson, RPh, PhC, MPH, the chief pharmacy officer for the US Public Health Service, explains in an article
in the January/February 2013 issue of Public Health Reports
Heart disease kills approximately 600,000 people in the United State each year, but many of its risk factors are preventable. With approximately 275 million Americans visiting pharmacies each week, Giberson explains, pharmacists have an opportunity to help educate their communities, which can add up to large numbers of people taking steps to protect their hearts.
Patients see pharmacists as both community members and medical consultants. As a result, patients are willing to take their advice regarding heart disease prevention steps such as adopting a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, stopping smoking, and, where necessary, monitoring their blood pressure and adhering to medication.
Pharmacists are accessible, trusted, and able to provide services from education to counseling. With more than 40 states allowing pharmacists to provide expanded patient care through agreements with physicians, pharmacists have the potential, now more than ever, to impact the heart health of the country.
Many pharmacists have already taken advantage of their distinct position to help prevent heart disease. During the summer of 2012, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation launched the Pharmacy Blood Pressure Challenge, encouraging pharmacists to talk to patients about blood pressure control as well as to provide blood pressure screenings. Pharmacists logged their progress online to track the contribution they were making to their communities.
Pharmacy students have also helped to improve heart health. Students who participated in Operation Heart, led by the APhA’s Academy of Student Pharmacists, educated almost 2 million patients on heart health and provided screenings to approximately 42,000 patients.
Many other pharmacies have teamed up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, participating in its Team Up Pressure Down program, which aims to provide professionals with resources and support to work as a team to help patients control their blood pressure.
Throughout the month of February, other pharmacists are participating in special programs and events to help educate their clients. CVS is offering special savings on aspirin, vitamins, and blood pressure monitors. Rite Aid is distributing guides for heart health as well as collecting money for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. Others, including students at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, are educating the public through special events and health fairs.
All pharmacists are in a position to spread awareness of heart disease prevention techniques to a wide audience of patients this February. But in the United States today, where more people die from heart attacks and stroke than from cancer, pharmacists need to be committed to preventing heart disease throughout the year. Pharmacists can take small steps, such as offering free blood pressure screenings or educating patients on risk factors and prevention tips, to make a big change in the heart health of Americans.