Pharmacy Times

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NEWS BRIEFS

Wyoming Program Assists Residents

Thanks to a pilot program, Wyoming PharmAssist, residents of the state can have their medications reviewed by a certified pharmacist and perhaps even save money. Residents can call a tollfree number to request a form that they fill out and return. A pharmacist will review the form and meet with the individual for $5.

"Each consultation is designed to review a client's health and medication history while looking for potentially dangerous drug interactions and harmful side effects from taking multiple medications together," said Aimee Lewis, PharmD, a health department pharmacist.

Right now the program is available to residents around Cheyenne, Casper, Laramie, and Torrington. It is set to cover the entire state sometime in the summer if the response is positive.

CHPA Brochure Is Now Available in Spanish

In an effort to reach the Hispanic community, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) and the FDA have translated their consumer education brochure "Over-the-Counter Medicines: What's Right for You?" into Spanish. The original English-language version of the publication was reviewed and updated prior to the launch of the Spanish version. The new brochure is a combined publication that offers advice for both English- and Spanishspeaking consumers on a range of health care issues. These issues include OTC medicine labels, drug interactions, product tampering, and using OTCs while pregnant or nursing. To order copies of the publication (up to 100), call the CHPA's publication line at 202- 429-3529, or visit www.chpa-info.org and click on "Publications."

Report Recommends Electronic Records

A new report by the Institute of Medicine calls for hospitals and physicians to adopt electronic record-keeping systems to prevent the many deaths due to fatal medication errors each year. This adoption would form the basis for a nationwide flow of patient information among practitioners and medical facilities.

If the recommendations are implemented, the report would become an historic milestone in American medicine by trying to capture the safety-andquality benefits of a national health care system without really creating one. The standards for electronic surveillance and error-surveillance systems would be the government's responsibility, but hospitals and clinics would have the freedom to pick their own systems. Whereas the use of such systems would be voluntary, the systems could guide treatment decisions and catch mistakes. In the long run, electronic record keeping and participation in a national information network should become conditions for participating in programs such as Medicare, the report's authors suggest.

Under the proposal, the government would establish the technical standards for information exchange, define medical errors, and inform hospitals as to what information to collect about these errors.

Many federal agencies would take on new responsibilities, as would committees in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments that are currently standardizing information flow among themselves. The first order of business is adoption of an "electronic health record" that provides uers with instant access to patient information from all sources and alerts them to impending disasters.

Call-In Program Cuts Drug Costs

A toll-free hot line for Massachusetts residents who have trouble paying for prescription drugs is a success, according to a survey conducted by MassMedLine. The program helps patients use existing government assistance, benefit programs, and discount cards to reduce drug prices. The MassMedLine program is a public?private partnership between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The survey found the following results:

? 61% of the respondents received at least 1 free medication from a manufacturer's patient assistance program when they were helped by MassMedLine in filing their application

? 21% got a discount card for savings on their medications

? 16% were given suggestions about less expensive medications

The hot line, operated on the college's Worcester campus, helps patients to afford their prescription medications by referring them to government and private assistance programs, suggesting various discount cards, and in many instances simply recommending more affordable generic drugs. Pharmacists and caseworkers staffing the hot line help callers to determine their eligibility for a range of programs, complete necessary applications, and talk with their physicians or pharmacists about alternative treatments. Furthermore, pharmacists follow up with callers to make sure that they are taking their medications correctly, to monitor for drug interactions, and to answer any questions.

Health Care Spending Reaches a Record High

The annual report that analyzes spending trends in the public and private health care sectors found that prescription drug spending continued as the fastest-growing item in health care, despite the fact that its rate of growth slowed slightly to 15.3%. Overall, health care spending in the United States soared to $1.6 trillion in 2002-about $5540 for every American-and the rate of growth exceeded the rate in the rest of the economy for a fourth straight year. Among the reasons for the 9.3% increase over 2001 were hospital spending and prescription drug costs, according to the report from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Analysts anticipate that drug costs will outstrip the overall growth in health care spending for the next decade. That projection, however, does not take into account the new Medicare prescription drug benefit that begins in 2006. Many economists foresee the change leading to an additional increase in costs. In 2002, out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs increased as a result of changes in drug insurance coverage that transferred costs to consumers.

The federal figures, published in Health Affairs (January/February 2004), showed that hospital spending rose 9.5%, which reflects the increasing use of hospital services, rising wages of hospital workers, and hospitals' growing ability to negotiate prices with private insurance plans. Also, the rise in hospital spending follows the extension of managed care insurance plans in the mid-1990s that clamped restrictions on hospital stays. As for out-of-pocket spending, it continued its long decline as a percentage of overall spending from 21% in 1988 to 13.7% in 2002. The main reason is the expansion of covered services in insurance plans.

Yet, the recession increased financial stress on private employers and governments alike. The answer was to transfer costs to employees and beneficiaries. For instance, states are already putting limits on the Medicaid program for the poor in an attempt to keep costs down. The report concludes that similar shifts in the future could slow the rate of growth in health care spending.

Campaign Educates Consumers About COPD

ALTANA Pharma US and the American Lung Association have joined together to implement a new educational awareness campaign for individuals at risk of having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The program is part of ALTANA Pharma's ongoing commitment to discovering and developing cutting-edge respiratory health therapies and educational efforts.

The "Hungry for Air: Sharing the Facts About COPD" campaign offers free informational cards for consumers to educate themselves about COPD and the importance of early diagnosis. The cards have been sent to American Lung Association offices across the United States to lend support to local awareness initiatives, as well as to general physicians to encourage them to support the educational campaign. For more information about the cards, call 877-COPD-INFO.

Pharmacists Will Counsel Smokers About Quitting

Texas residents should not be surprised if they are asked whether they smoke the next time they pick up a prescription at their pharmacy. Thanks to Project TEAM at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center, pharmacists will soon be counseling patients about tobacco use and smoking cessation in an attempt to help patients permanently kick the habit.

In the beginning phase of the project, scheduled to start in March 2004, the cancer center will partner with several major drugstore chains and local pharmacies to recruit 96 pharmacists throughout Texas. Officially titled the "Health Care Team Approach to Smoking Cessation," the project will include training sessions given by MD Anderson faculty members, events to facilitate relationships between pharmacists and physicians, videotaped lectures, and a Web site tutorial. Pharmacists involved in the project will learn to identify patients who smoke and to offer support in quitting and staying smoke-free. If smokers are interested, the pharmacist can call a physician right away and get a prescription for tobacco-cessation medication before patients leave the store. The pharmacist can check a patient's progress each time the individual fills a prescription.

Project TEAM is a spinoff of MD Anderson's physician-focused Tobacco Outreach Education Program. "Many people see their doctor only a few times a year, but they're likely to see their pharmacist whenever they stop by the drugstore," said Alexandre V. Prokhorov, MD, PhD, associate professor in the MD Anderson Department of Behavioral Science and lead investigator on the project. "This regular contact helps build trust, and enables them to consistently give their patients advice and support." Dr. Prokhorov plans to roll out the program regionally and then nationwide.