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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Outreach program at College of Pharmacy helping thousands each month

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

Now more than ever, Rhode Islanders
relying on URI for prescription information

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 23, 2006 -- When Rhode Islanders need help deciphering the complexities of Medicare Part D, understanding drug imports from Canada or evaluating the latest TV drug commercials, they look to the Pharmacy Outreach Program of the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy.

In its first two weeks, the URI program’s special Medicare Part D website dedicated to the new federal prescription program had 1,100 hits, and since September the three-member outreach team has run or participated in 32 Medicare Part D presentations that served 1,700 seniors citizens, health care professionals from Woonsocket to Wakefield. The Outreach Program has trained 35 pharmacy students to help with Medication Part D presentations.

That’s just one small portion of a comprehensive outreach effort that includes a partnership with RxforRI to provide prescription cost assistance, a toll-free Medication Information Hotline and Medication Education Resource Center that offers more than 30 different presentations on medications and their uses, as well as the internationally known Brown Bag Program.

It all stems from a small pilot project in the early 1980s that used the modest brown bag as its main tool. The concept was simple—seniors could bring their multiple prescriptions to various centers around the state in a brown lunch bag. URI pharmacists would then answer the seniors’ questions and make recommendations. The Brown Bag Prescription Medication Program, which has helped hundreds of thousands of elderly Rhode Islanders, is now a model throughout the world. Even ABC TV’s Good Morning America featured URI’s program.

While the Brown Bag Program continues to be offered under the umbrella of the Medication Education Resource Center, the Pharmacy Outreach Program has become adept at responding to pressing health care issues, such as the Medicare Part D program and drug imports from Canada. From one-on-one medication counseling to group presentations or information over the phone, the outreach services are free to Rhode Islanders. Last year, the outreach team presented more than 300 educational programs in Rhode Island senior centers.

“I am not surprised that we have been so busy with Medicare Part D,” said Bill Beaulieu, one of the outreach coordinators along with Nancy Tortolani and Sandra Rosa, all of whom are registered pharmacists. “There are 44 different plans from which patients can choose, and they all have important differences. Our job is to help patients see what their options are and how their choices will affect their prescription coverage. Each plan is formulary driven, which means that there are preferred or approved drugs for that plan. Because those formularies allow for drug substitutions, it is important that the pharmacist be involved,” added Beaulieu.

Tortolani said one of the biggest changes since the early Brown Bag days is the outreach program’s ability to be altered quickly.

“We have made the Pharmacy Outreach Program flexible so that it meets the demands and needs of Rhode Islanders,” Tortolani said. “Since things change so quickly in health care and specifically with medication management, we changed the program so that we can offer presentations on topics of great interest.”

The team is reaching out through a variety of formats. For on-site visits, Spanish-speaking pharmacy students doing their clinical rotations offer presentations and individual medication counseling in neighborhoods where Spanish is spoken heavily. The coordinators supervise the students.

“Having bilingual students involved in the presentations is much more effective than using a translator,” Rosa said. “There is always something lost in translation. When a pharmacy student speaks directly to a patient, he or she can pick up stress, confusion, anxiety or even anger, and work to help put the patient at ease.”

The program is also making heavy use of its website and its toll-free numbers for the Medication Information Line, 1-800-215-9001, and the Medication Education Resource Center, 1-800-215-9001.