USC School of Pharmacy Plans to Increase Services in Safety-net Clinics

A model that integrates pharmacy services into clinics and medical homes can result in significant improvements in care while reducing overall health costs.

As part of a new medication therapy and safety initiative, the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California has announced plans to double its presence in clinics and medical homes in the next 2 years. The School, which began providing clinical pharmacy services in safety-net clinics in 2002, is currently a key partner with 12 clinics in Southern California. The new initiative aims to increase the School’s coverage to 24 clinics and medical homes by 2013.

Clinics play a vital role in meeting the health needs of underprivileged communities—a need that has increased due to the economic downturn. New census statistics show that more than 15% of Americans live below the national poverty level. In California, more than 16% of individuals are living are in poverty and nearly 20% lack health insurance. Los Angeles County alone is home to more than 2.7 million uninsured.

A USC clinical study demonstrates that integrating pharmacy services into safety-net clinics and medical homes results in measurable improvements in care. For example, hypertension patients had reduced blood pressure, and patients with diabetes showed improvements in blood-glucose control.

"The USC School of Pharmacy’s work in safety-net clinics enables us to have a direct and positive impact on the city’s most at-risk residents," said R. Pete Vanderveen, the School’s dean, in a statement. "And, since these economic problems face the entire country, we are urging our fellow pharmacy schools to increase their outreach efforts as well."

Through the initiative, students will provide pharmaceutical care services such as educating and monitoring patients with chronic diseases who often take multiple medications for their conditions. Once diagnosed by a physician, patients are referred to a staff pharmacist for medication therapy management and ongoing monitoring of their drug regimen. Staff pharmacists will then adjust prescribed therapies and provide education to help ensure that patients reach treatment goals safely and effectively.

William Lang, vice president of policy and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy applauded the initiative, noting that “it reflects our organizational commitment of increasing our members’ community engagement in ways that create real value to patients, prescribers and faculty and students. USC sends a strong message to its fellow academic institutions that health and education go hand in hand toward creating sustainable, livable communities.”

Pharmacy students and residents can benefit from the program as well, as the clinics provide training for a diverse population and a wide range of diseases and conditions. For the faculty members who provide services, the clinics also offer opportunities for research and to collect crucial data regarding health outcomes, medication safety, health literacy, and cultural competency that can lead to further advances in care.

Increasing the number of clinics and medical homes where students and residents are trained also is important because the more exposure they gain to such facilities, the more likely they’ll choose to dedicate their careers to helping people in these settings, according to Dean Vanderveen. “This trains even more pharmacists to work on the frontline to meet the nation’s most pressing health care needs,” he noted, adding that the initiative is “also is a great opportunity for the USC School of Pharmacy to positively impact our community and to share an effective model that can be adopted throughout the country.”