Student pharmacists smoothing transitions

Dr. Amy Shaver and Dr. Melissa Morano at the High Street Prescription Center.

Dr. Amy Shaver and Dr. Melissa Morano at the High Street Prescription Center

The more than 1,200 recently hospitalized patients had been discharged and sent home. For many, it was a time of confusion and uncertainty: patients missed taking their medications or were uncertain about their dosage, had been reluctant to make follow-up appointments and also may have wondered if a return trip to the hospital was in their near future.

One by one, these patients were getting phone calls from about two dozen University of Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences fourth-year advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE) students who worked vigorously to prevent lapses in care. The calls lasted only a few minutes, but the discussions were focused and powerful for the patients who had complex medical histories. The student pharmacists asked questions before the calls ended: Did they understand what their medications were for? Did they know the kind of diet they were on? The callers counseled patients and urged follow-up care with their doctors.

After many months of working with the patients, there were huge successes, including a significant reduction in the number of patients returning to the hospital as readmissions within 30 days. Of 1,200 patient encounters examined, 67 percent had decreased odds of all-cause 30-day readmissions and decreased odds of related readmissions. The program included patients contacted from June through November 2017.

The outreach by these student pharmacists working in tandem with community pharmacists made a “significant impact on reducing hospital readmission rates,” according to a study of the program published earlier this year by the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

“Post-discharge follow-up by community pharmacists has the potential to dramatically affect the rate of 30-day hospital readmissions,” the study noted. “Integration of student pharmacists or residents can provide a low-cost strategy to facilitate implementation and expansion.”

That period between the time when patients are discharged from hospitals and the time they are recovering is sensitive, wrought with potential problems. The transitions of care (TOC) stage is a continued target in a burdened healthcare system in the effort to reduce costs and improve quality.