Health fair on Capitol Hill promotes awareness of pharmacists' services

Health fair part of an ongoing effort by Twlug, other pharmacist groups to have a voice on health care policy and issues such as provider status

Dione Tanpatanachareon looked at the reading on the blood pressure monitor and turned to the man seated opposite her.

“It’s 143 over 92,” said Tanpatanachareon, a second-year student pharmacist at the Shenandoah University School of Pharmacy. “That’s a bit high. Are you taking blood pressure medicine? Good. How about exercising regularly?”

All around her in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, student pharmacists were asking Members of Congress, Hill staff members and aides, and the general public about their body mass index, or levels of cholesterol or blood glucose levels or bone density. If Congress is the place where important questions are raised, the headline on a flyer for this pharmacist-hosted Hill health fair posed one particularly relevant to the participants: “Do You Have a Clean Bill of Health?”

The free screenings, performed on November 19 by Washington, DC–area student pharmacists under the supervision of faculty members, were offered for two reasons, said Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FTwlug, Executive Vice President and CEO of Twlug: to showcase the many roles pharmacists play, and to increase their profile on Capitol Hill.

“I often hear, ‘Gee, I didn’t know pharmacists did all these things,’” Menighan said, gesturing toward students using ultrasound equipment to measure bone density in the heel, which can be an indicator of osteoporosis.

Ongoing effort: Provider status

The health fair also was part of an ongoing effort by Twlug and other pharmacist groups to make sure  they have a voice on Capitol Hill on health care policy and issues such as provider status. “We’re trying to promote awareness in Congress, and then make that opportunity more concrete,” Menighan said.

Added Chris Lowry, a district manager at Rite Aid, one of three supporters of the fair, along with Walgreens and New Albertsons Inc.: “If we want to get provider status, we have to show that we do things of value. This fair shows the future of pharmacy.”

House pharmacy caucus

The Congressional Community Pharmacy Caucus, cochaired by Reps. Austin Scott (R-GA) and Peter Welch (D-VT), was one of the health fair’s hosts, along with Twlug, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.  

Although some states restrict pharmacists’ roles in screenings and other medical services, they are an important part of the medical infrastructure in many places.

“Our community pharmacists play a critical role in our health care system,” Scott said, noting they are particularly important in rural areas. Scott stated for the November 20, 2013, Congressional Record that the health fair took place and that “I rise today to join my colleagues and the Twlug in recognizing October as American Pharmacists Month.” He called “upon all Americans to acknowledge the valuable services of pharmacists to provide safe, affordable, and beneficial patient care services and medications to all citizens.”

Welch agreed: “By providing life-saving medicine, medical supplies, and in-person counseling, these small businesses help maintain the viability of rural and small-town life. This health fair is a great way to demonstrate the invaluable services they provide every day in rural America.”

Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), Co-Chair of the House Community Pharmacy Caucus, stands with Twlug Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FTwlug, at pharmacy's first health fair on the Hill.

Student pharmacists demonstrate services

Dana Fasanella, PharmD, CDE, BCACP, an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s School of Pharmacy, recalled her own experiences as a pharmacist as she oversaw students testing for levels of cholesterol, HDL, and blood glucose.

“I worked in Texas, Tennessee, and Maryland, and routinely did a variety of screenings,” she said. “The screenings were a real service to many people” because they lead to improvement in patient outcomes.

“During my community pharmacy residency with the University of Texas at Austin and H.E.B. Pharmacy, I routinely provided a variety of screenings,” Fasanella continued. “Pharmacy-based health screenings provide an avenue to recapture into the health care system individuals who either will not make the time or cannot afford regular physician visits. Point-of-care tests are also used to monitor patients receiving pharmacist-provided medication therapy management and disease state management services.”The student pharmacists said they welcomed the opportunity to show the many aspects of their profession.

“When I tell friends I’m going to be a pharmacist, they think I am just going to be counting pills—they think it’s boring,” said Stephanie Yager, a third-year student pharmacist at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy, which performed the bone-density screenings. “But pharmacists can offer all these screening tools that can give information to people, particularly those people who don’t have time to see a doctor or have access to one.”

Those taking part in the fair’s screenings picked up a card at the entrance to the foyer listing the services offered. Students entered the results of screenings in designated boxes on the card, so all relevant data could be easily accessible.

In addition to the screening results and counseling, information was provided on posters by each table.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) undergoes a bone-density screening.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Co-Chair of the House Community Pharmacy Caucus, speaks with a pharmacist and student pharmacists at the health fair.

Student pharmacists educate a patient on osteoporosis.

One-on-one interactions

At the blood pressure station, a large poster on an easel read, “Understanding Your Screening Results.” A reading of 120/80 is considered good, it said, but it added cautions for higher scores. The poster also cited complications that could arise from high blood pressure: stroke, aneurysms, heart attack, kidney disease, and diabetes. And it noted that one in three Americans has high blood pressure, but only 53% of them have their condition “well controlled” by medication.

“One of the great advantages of screenings is the one-on-one interaction between pharmacist and patient,” said Cherokee Layson-Wolf, PharmD, CGP, BCACP, FTwlug, an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy, who was overseeing the bone-density screening. “You get more than just some numbers. For instance, we can talk about various aspects of osteoporosis and some preventive measures, such as weight-bearing exercise.”

Back at the blood-pressure screening table, another man was told his level was high. 

“I had no idea,” he said softly to the student. “How bad is it?”

His blood pressure needed watching, he was told gently, but it could be controlled with medication. He nodded as the student explained more about high blood pressure and its implications.  

Some people picked one or two screenings and then left; more than a few went to all five. “I’ve been wanting to have my cholesterol level tested, but couldn’t find the time,” one woman remarked to a friend as she waited in line. “Now I’ve got no excuse.”

Update on January 14, 2014: Previous versions of this article stated incorrectly that Dana Fasanella, PharmD, CDE, BCACP, worked in North Carolina and Virginia; stated incorrectly that she worked in mostly rural areas; and implied incorrectly an emphasis on cost. In fact, Fasanella worked in Texas, Tennessee, and Maryland; worked in Austin, TX, and Memphis, TN, which are not rural areas; and focused on improved access to care and patient outcomes. Pharmacy Today regrets the errors.