Winner of SingleCare's Best of the Best: Best Pharmacist for Education, Ortega Jr. joined Drug Topics® to discuss why educating patients is important to him and how those encounters can lead to improved outcomes.
Drug Topics®: Please start by introducing yourself,
Michael Anthony Ortega, Jr.: Hello, my name is Michael Anthony Ortega Jr. I earned my bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona in 2010 and my doctorate of pharmacy from the University of Colorado, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2014. I currently reside in Greeley, Colorado, which is about an hour north of Denver. I manage a pharmacy for King Soopers, which is a banner of Kroger.
Drug Topics®: Why is being a patient educator so important to you?
Ortega Jr.: Being a patient educator is important to me because it ensures that I provide my patients with the information and the knowledge to allow them to best utilize their medication regimens to optimize therapeutic outcomes. For example, my day-to-day routine provides lots of those opportunities in a retail setting because people are picking up new medications people are coming in with potential drug/drug interactions every day. So, I'm able to provide tips and hints on how to better utilize their medication, or how to avoid potential drug/drug interactions or intervene to get them a better option for their therapeutic plan. By doing that, my ultimate goal is to help every patient achieve those therapeutic goals that they've set forth with their primary provider or other health care professionals with the ultimate aim of living healthier lives.
Drug Topics®: For pharmacists who are looking to be more involved in patient education, what do you recommend for them?
Ortega Jr.: Pharmacists looking to become more involved in patient education, I feel that first and foremost, they should just focus on being vigilant at work because opportunities are there. You just have to listen for them. By listening for those interventions, you can pick up on potential administration techniques that they may not be utilizing correctly, or medical advice that they have misunderstood from their primary care provider. A lot of times, I've found that counseling points that may seem common knowledge to health care providers as a whole are not common knowledge to the general public. Just by providing those little tips and hints, it helps with better therapeutic outcomes for the patient.
Drug Topics®: Do you have a story that highlights how patient education led to a better outcome for the patient?
Ortega Jr.: I have 2 stories actually. The first story is about albuterol inhalers. A lot of albuterol inhalers come with the directions of inhale 1 to 2 puffs every 4 to 6 hours or something to that effect. There are countless times where I go up to the counter, and the patient is like, ‘Oh, I've been on this for years. I know all about it.’ So, I asked them, ‘Okay, how long between inhalations should you wait to maximize the effect?’ And [they ask], ‘What do you mean?’ I [say], ‘Well, between the 2 pumps, separate them by minute or so to maximize each dose.’ They always [reply], ‘Oh, I never knew that’ or ‘I was never told that.’ That's an example of health care professionals assuming that you would do that. Some patients think it's just like in the movies where you puff, puff in rapid fashion, and it's good to go. That's 1 example.
The second example actually just happened the other day, and it hasn't led to an improved outcome per se, but I feel like it will lead to a better outcome or just destigmatizing of the medication. It involves Narcan, which is the opioid antagonist to knock opioids off the receptors. I had a patient picking up some Percocet and she was also prescribed Narcan. She [asked], ‘why do I need that?’ I went through and I counseled. Narcan, it's not just for drug overdoses. It's for respiratory emergencies, which can be caused by opioids. It’s the terminology that you can use to help patients feel more comfortable with their therapies and destigmatize it. Most people think of Narcan, and they think it's for drug users, for overdoses. That's one of the aspects that it can be used for. Because she had a young son with her, I pointed out that this could also be used for him, in case he got into her medication and took one by accident. If he goes into a respiratory emergency, she could use it until she got him into emergency services. After that interaction, she was more comfortable getting that medication because she better understood its full potential. It was destigmatized for her because it wasn't just an overdose medication. It was also a respiratory depression medication for anyone in the family, not just for her.
Drug Topics®: Why is it so important for you can be a mentor in pharmacy?
Ortega Jr.: By being a mentor, I feel it's most important for future pharmacists, first and foremost, because it helps to foster professional growth for them by providing examples of real-world interactions that I've experienced. By acting as that mentor, it adds another layer on top of their clinical knowledge that they're getting from their didactic courses during the course of their education. Furthermore, mentors offer support throughout one's career. I still have mentors. I try to act as mentors for students that I precepted and who are now in the profession as pharmacists. I do continue to act as a mentor by being a preceptor for the University of Colorado and the University of Wyoming.
Drug Topics®: And finally, what does it mean to you to be named best pharmacist for education?
Ortega Jr.: By being named best pharmacist for education from SingleCare, I was both humbled and honored. I feel like the best aspect of this award was that it was solely generated by a patient's nomination. It came from people or from one particular patient that I interact with on a day-to-day basis at my counter. It didn't come from within the profession or within any type of professional structure. It was just a patient that nominated me. SingleCare reached out to me, and I guess they appreciated my comments and my interview. And I was awarded this award, which I think is amazing.