Pharmacies improve medication adherence through synchronization programs

Rather than making multiple visits to the pharmacy each month, some Milwaukee-area pharmacies are allowing patients to receive all of their prescriptions at once through a service called medication synchronization.

Pharmacies that offer med sync programs call their patients once a month to coordinate their prescription refills and arrange a time for them to be picked up from the pharmacy or, in some cases, home-delivered.

Traditionally, pharmacies have waited for the patients to call them to place prescription orders, resulting in numerous calls and trips to the pharmacy throughout the month.

“We’re planning ahead versus being reactive,” said Kara Boghossian, pharmacy manager at Skywalk Pharmacy’s New Berlin location, which also offers a med sync program at its Wauwatosa location.

The American Pharmacists Association Foundation states that more than 5,000 pharmacies across the country, about 10 percent of all pharmacies, offer med sync programs. In order to promote med sync, the APhA Foundation has launched a new campaign called Align My Refills.

The American Pharmacists Association Foundation launched Align My Refills to promote medication synchronization.

“We’ve been seeing an increase in the number of pharmacies providing this service over the past five years,” said Mindy Smith, executive director of the APhA Foundation. “We thought it would benefit consumers to get the word out on how important it is to stay adherent to their medication and for pharmacists to provide the service.”

According to the APhA Foundation, approximately 69 million Americans take three or more prescriptions per month and those aged 65 and older take 14 to 18 prescriptions per year.

Many consumers, however, forget to refill their prescriptions before they run out and subsequently miss doses of their medication, resulting in 125,000 deaths and 10 to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions each year.

The APhA Foundation lists eight pharmacies (some with multiple locations) in the greater Milwaukee area that offer med sync programs, including the Hayat Pharmacy.

“It’s a win, win, win situation,” said Hayat owner and president Hashim Zaibak. Hayat started offering the service in 2012 and has enrolled almost 400 patients across its six Milwaukee locations.

Zaibak said it is beneficial for the patients because they are more adherent to their medication, since the pharmacist technicians are calling them a week in advance and proactively filling the prescriptions. Most patients only have to make one trip to the pharmacy each month versus 10 or 15, for example, and others only have to make a visit once every three months, as some insurance companies allow three-month supplies.

As for the pharmacies, it streamlines their workflow because it eliminates incoming phone calls from patients and helps them plan ahead, Zaibak said. Prior to offering the service, patients often would not call in for a refill until they completely ran out. At that point, the pharmacy may be out of stock of the prescription or it might be on a Friday evening when it is nearly impossible for the pharmacist to reach a doctor.

Now, Hayat has at least one pharmacy technician, called a synchronization specialist, at each location whose job is devoted to making phone calls to patients enrolled in the service and synchronizing prescriptions.

Finally, he said, med sync programs are advantageous for insurance companies because a patient who is more adherent to his or her blood pressure medication, for instance, is less likely to suffer a heart attack and the insurance company is, thus, less likely to have to pay for a costly medical procedure.

In addition, greater adherence to medication leads to improved Medicare plan star ratings.

According to Boghossian, who said Skywalk Pharmacy’s two locations have offered a med sync program for about five years, another benefit is the improved relationships between the pharmacists and the patients.

“They see that you’re helping them get their medications,” she said. “It’s a different way of working as a pharmacy.”

While they both are fully supportive of their med sync programs, Zaibak and Boghossian said there can be a few challenges.

For one, Boghossian said Skywalk relies on patients keeping their contact information up to date and accepting phone calls from technicians once a month.

Zaibak said other obstacles include explaining to patients why the service is recommended and encountering some patients on fixed incomes who cannot afford the simultaneous copayments.

Smith also added that the service requires upfront work for pharmacies in the first couple of months as they have to do what are called “short fills” and “long fills” in order to sync all the medications so they will be ready to be picked up at the same time.

“There’s work you have to go through, but once the prescriptions are synced it’s really valuable for the pharmacy because it creates efficiency going forward,” Smith said.

Even if a pharmacy offers a med sync program, however, patients still have the choice of whether or not they want to participate. Zaibak said about 40 percent of Hayat’s patients on chronic medications are enrolled, and Boghossian estimates more than half of Skywalk’s ongoing patients are signed up.

While Smith said med sync significantly benefits the elderly, Zaibak said Hayat’s service is also used by disabled patients and Boghossian said Skywalk primarily serves pediatric patients with chronic conditions.

Overall, anyone who is on two or more chronic medications per month can benefit from med sync, Smith said.

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