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Bringing Back the Neighborhood Pharmacist

When someone is given a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or rheumatoid arthritis and placed on medications, they often leave their doctor's office with as many questions as answers. Newer drugs come with unique side effects and require careful adherence, and many patients need more education about their illness and the prescribed treatment than is possible during a doctor's visit.

Enter St. Jude Medical Center's new Pharmacotherapy and Medication Management Clinic, one of the only clinics of its kind in Southern California.

"Completely understanding your condition and treatment is a powerful tool for anyone living with a chronic condition," explains Kim Vo, PharmD, ambulatory care pharmacist. "We're here to provide that to every patient."

The new clinic focuses on patients with a chronic condition—including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis C and rheumatoid arthritis—and those who could benefit from one-on-one education and ongoing support from a pharmacist.

First appointments typically last an hour, during which the pharmacist reviews the patient's entire list of medications and walks them through their treatment plan, all while educating about side effects and other issues that impact care.

Frequent follow-up appointments and phone calls allow the pharmacist to assess treatment success and identify problems early and then work with the patient's physician to make needed changes.

"We look at the whole picture, not just if all their medications are safe, effective or even necessary, but making sure each patient has the information and confidence to actively participate in improving their health," explains Dr. Vo.

Besides creating very high levels of patient satisfaction, the clinic serves another role: improving affordability. Medications—among them a class of drugs known as biologics, increasingly used for IBD and rheumatoid arthritis—are expensive. Clinic pharmacists work with insurance companies, manufacturers and financial assistance programs to help ensure that cost is not an obstacle.

One of Dr. Vo's favorite aspects is the chance to develop close relationships with patients.

"Here, patients feel comfortable asking the questions they're too embarrassed to ask their doctor because they're afraid it's a waste of the doctor's time," Dr. Vo says, explaining that she often uses appointments to probe for difficult-to-discuss issues, such as depression, that can accompany chronic conditions. "The questions someone is reluctant to ask are often the most important ones."

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