Second-year pharmacy students Olivia Berger, Josh Zimardo and Chris Randall spent two hours in mid-February asking strangers about their daily routines.
Specifically, the students wanted to know how often customers were taking their medicine: Do you ever forget to take your medications? Do you ever have problems remembering to take your medications? If you feel worse, do you stop taking your medications? And if you feel better, do you stop taking your medications?
They weren’t just being nosy. For the third year in a row, all second-year Pitt pharmacy students, from Jan. 15 to March 16, are taking part in the Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge — which Pitt School of Pharmacy has won two years running. The winner gets a trophy at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy summer meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, this July.
The annual competition encourages health profession students and faculty across the nation to develop solutions to raise public awareness about the importance of medication adherence — the extent to which a person takes their medication as prescribed by a doctor.
“Usually just talking about their adherence can lead to other conversations, and other questions that they may have on their other medications, and we can help them with that, as well increasing their adherence,” Berger said.
In order to make their initiative successful and to improve patient care across Allegheny County, the students set up their informational tables once a week for two hours at local pharmacy practices, from CVS and Rite Aid to smaller independently owned pharmacies.
Once the students ask customers inside the local pharmacy about the medications and health problems they were experiencing, the patient gets a score from zero to four, with lower numbers meaning better medication adherence. Then the students provide advice — anything from how to maintain a healthy blood pressure to how to properly request and take medications as directed.
“We give many suggestions so that we can better improve their compliance with their medications or we give them strategies that they can implement in their daily lives to help them take it everyday — to eventually living a longer, healthier life,” Randall said.
By early February, the class of more than 100 students had spoken to more than 930 customers at pharmacies and nursing homes. In order to win the challenge, they must talk to 1,250 patients and exceed last year’s results of 1,140 patients.
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking to start approaching patients, especially when they are not expecting you to approach them,” Hannah Hoseyni, a second-year pharmacy student and social media outreach co-chair for the team challenge initiative, said. “Some will say ‘No, I don’t want to talk to you,’ and you can’t force them. But it’s always nice when you get a meaningful interaction.”
The class is also planning to partner with the Birmingham Free Clinic in the South Side to help patients manage their health care.
About 50 percent of patients do not take their medications as prescribed and about 90 million adults have inadequate health literacy — meaning they do not understand basic health information to make appropriate health decisions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The issue can be costly because patients who aren’t taking pre-emptive medication may make more trips to the emergency room or the doctor’s office.
“Medication nonadherence is a $300 billion problem, and spending even a few minutes discussing how patients take their medications can greatly impact our community,” Hoseyni said.
Hoseyni said there are three possible reasons why a person may forget to take their medication as prescribed. A common problem, she said, is confusion caused by multiple medications. In that case, she suggests patients use a pillbox to organize their medications.
Patients may neglect to take their medication if they have negative side effects — like a dry hacking cough, Hoseyni said. If financial reasons are the case for not taking medication, Hoseyni also recommended taking generic versions of medications and scouring for coupons online.
But, the pharmacy students’ main focus isn’t just on medication adherence — it’s also helping people transition to healthier lives.
“The whole point is to start that conversation,” Hoseyni said. “So even if you can tell they are hesitating, you can start that conversation with them and create that dialogue that would help them better manage that medication.”