BRATTLEBORO -- Some people have multiple prescriptions, and keeping track of all them, when they need to be refilled and when they need to be taken, can be confusing and for some of those people, losing track of their prescriptions could endanger their health.
Pharmacists around the nation are attempting to address this situation with something called prescription synchronization.
"This is really something pharmacists have been doing anyway," said Jim Heal, of Putney Pharmacy, "trying to make things as simple as possible for people to take their medications correctly."
Heal, who was the pharmacist at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend for 16 years before opening Putney Pharmacy in 2013, said people like him do a lot more than just sell a product.
"We are constantly interfacing with health care providers and keeping track of our clients and making sure they get their prescriptions correctly," he said. Many pharmacies also assemble multiple prescriptions into pill packs and deliver them to their clients, he added.
"We want to make it as easy as possible for our customers to keep track of their own meds," said Heal.
Pharmacy synchronization allows people get all of their prescriptions in one visit, accomplished by a one-time adjustment of the length of their prescriptions so that multiple prescription refill days "synch up."
Beyond convenience, the hope is that pharmacy synchronization will have a positive effect on patient's health outcomes through better adherence.
Up until now, it cost Vermonters more to try and get what's know as a "short script" if you wanted to coordinate your prescriptions, but the two largest insurers in Vermont have agreed to implement a new program, which will allow patients in their networks to synchronize their medications.
Both Blue Cross BlueShield of Vermont and MVP Healthcare will pro-rate the co-payment.
The National Community Pharmacists Association has developed a program to help pharmacists implement prescription synchronization, said Casey Powers, an intern at Hotel Pharmacy in Brattleboro. He said the "Simplify My Meds" program introduced by NCPA is helping to streamline the process and make it easier for patients and pharmacists to fill prescriptions.
"We are working on it and it probably will take a few weeks or a month to get as many patients transferred over as soon as we can," said Powers.
Studies have shown that when barriers to access to medication are eliminated, adherence rates go up. Healthier patients translate into a healthier bottom line for the overall health care system, as studies show that patients who regularly take the medication they are prescribed avoid more costly medical treatments like emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
"The program is helping each of the pharmacists get the information out there that we are doing this," said Heal. "Yes, we have always done this, but we are trying to show that the service we provide is entirely different from mail-order prescriptions."
Many insurers are pushing their clients to utilize mail-order firms to fill their prescriptions because it saves the insurers money, but community pharmacists are reminding people that when you do that, you lose a vital resource.
Powers said having a community pharmacist is like having a health care advocate "at your fingertips."
"It comes down to accountability and having somebody who can manage you and your medications and any issues that come up."
"Individual pharmacists are invested in the community, and they try to keep their business as local as possible," said Heal.
Because community pharmacists have direct contact with doctors and their patients, he said, they can develop relationships that benefit their customers.
"Mail-order pharmacies are filling prescriptions with robots or technicians and maybe they are being checked by a pharmacist. When you walk into a pharmacy, a person is going to be there and nine times out of 10, it's the same pharmacist."
Community pharmacists also talk to doctors to make sure their mutual clients are getting the best medicine for what ails them, he said.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.