The Role of Community Health Workers in Improving Patient Outcomes

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Heath Mart, part of McKesson, offers an online resource to locate resources near independent pharmacies.

In a panel session at the 2024 McKesson ideaShare conference, Katie Bass, PharmD, owner of San Joaquin Drug, Inc, and Sindhuja Merugu, CPhT, pharmacy technician at a Health Mart Pharmacy—Family Pharmacy, joined Suzanne Feeney, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy retail operations at McKesson, Health Mart, to discuss how certified pharmacy technicians trained as community health workers (CHW) have the capacity to serve as public health advocates, improving patient care.

Apothecary selling drug to senior man at pharmacy - Image credit: Syda Productions | stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Syda Productions | stock.adobe.com

“If you're looking at clinical impact, 50% of impact is from social determinants of health (SDOH), where 20% is from medical care. To put that in perspective — transportation, access to food, access to childcare impacts all our health by 50%. Whereas the medications we take, the screenings we have, our physician and prescriber appointments are 20%. That's how truly important this work is and that's where we're able to implement CHWs to really take ownership of that in the pharmacy,” said moderator Feeney.

Throughout the discussion, the moderator and panelists discussed solutions and services that McKesson and Health Mart, a pharmacy franchise network, provides for pharmacies to support health equity—from implementing CHWs to utilizing a closed-loop online referral system for patients called healthmart.findhelp.com.

Bass noted that utilizing CHWs in pharmacies can lower health care costs for the state. CHWs can counsel patients on proper medication usage, ensuring the efficiency of the medication, which could lower emergency room visits, aiding overcrowding in hospitals. Bass said that this is a huge advantage for both patients and pharmacies.

To that end, McKesson supported 120 scholarships for certified pharmacy technicians to participate in a 16-week CHW training program offered through CEImpact, an accredited provider of continuing pharmacy education. Pharmacy technicians are well positioned to take on the role of a CHW as an existing, trusted resource in the pharmacy and community. With CHW training, technicians can expand their role in patient care and add additional value to the pharmacy and the patients it serves.

Bass noted several of her pharmacy technicians completed the course, which then allowed her to gain knowledge to jumpstart the program in her pharmacy.

As a pharmacy technician, Merugu completed the CHW certification course by CEImpact to expand her role within Family Pharmacy and help advance health outcomes.

“I was personally motivated to do this course because as health care providers have a responsibility to make sure our patients are taken care of — not just with pharmaceutical medications, but also with the many other factors that affect their health,” said Merugu.

Merugu also offered advice to pharmacy owners and teams interested in implementing the program.

“The pharmacy technician that you offer this opportunity to needs to be a technician that has the empowerment within them to really fill in the gaps with cultural competence and health literacy, being that trusted source for all your patients,” said Merugu.

To support the work of CHWs and pharmacy teams alike, Heath Mart offers an online closed-loop referral resource, healthmart.findhelp.com, for all Health Mart pharmacies and their patients. This system aids in access to financial assistance, food pantries, medical care, transportation, and other free or reduced-cost services, located near the pharmacy. Pharmacy staff and patients alike can go to the website to identify local community resources that may help address any challenges or barriers they may be facing.

“You just put in the zip code of your pharmacy or where your patient resides and it offers resources for transportation, food, childcare, etc. You click what you need, and the links of the resources are right there. Because it's a website, it's ever-changing and updating. It's such an easy-to-use navigable website,” said Bass.

“I found myself on healthmart.findhelp.com, looking up everything I could possibly think of because I felt so passionate to help all the patients who are struggling,” said Merugu.

Reference
Feeney S. Bass K. Merugu S. Community Health Workers: Impacting Your Community. Presnted at: McKesson ideaShare 2024; June 23- June 26, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana.
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