Getting Well and Staying Well: Supporting Patient New Year’s Resolutions for 2023

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics January 2023
Volume 167
Issue 01

Pharmacists can play an important role in patients’ wellness journeys.

On New Year’s Eve, individuals worldwide declare this is the year that they’ll finally do it: They’ll eat right and exercise, they’ll quit smoking, and they’ll make changes in their lives to follow a healthier lifestyle. More often than not, however, these resolutions quickly fall by the wayside.

But for those who make wellness-related resolutions, pharmacists can play a key role in ensuring these individuals stick to their New Year’s wellness pledges by being accountability partners, providing lifestyle advice, selling OTC products that promote diet and exercise, and even recommending first aid products if injuries occur, helping patients resume their wellness journeys more quickly.

Jennifer Bourgeois, PharmD, a pharmacist at Market Street Pharmacy in McKinney, Texas, notes that pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals; 89% of Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy. “In addition to proximity to a pharmacy, patients can typically speak with pharmacists without an appointment and thereby see them more often than [other care providers]—who they may only see for annual visits— which gives pharmacists an incredible opportunity to [support] patients’ wellness,” she says. “By using the skills and knowledge learned in pharmacy school training, pharmacists can provide point-of-care testing at the pharmacy. This includes blood sugar and HbA1c testing, cholesterol screenings, vaccinations, and COVID-19 testing.”

Nana Entsuah, PharmD, explained that because of their extensive education and subsequent medication and health expertise, pharmacists can provide evidence-based health and wellness recommendations to promote the well-being of patients. Entsuah is a health sciences assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

“Pharmacists can assist their patients in setting SMART goals. SMART is an acronym used to describe goals that are specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, relevant, and timely,” she said. “Goals should be specific and clear. The goal should be measurable, meaning that it is quantifiable and trackable. Achievable/attainable goals are those [that] are realistic and safe.”

Joseph Poling, PharmD, explained that because pharmacists have such good relationships with their patients, they are better equipped to help them figure out their health care goals and lead them to success. Poling is president and owner of Good Day Pharmacy, which has 9 retail pharmacies in Colorado. “Because pharmacists know most, if not all, medications a patient is taking, they can identify nutrient deficiencies and identify and recommend supplementation,” he said. Programs that educate patients on nutrition, water intake, exercise, and strategies to help prevent diabetes can also be helpful. “Most pharmacists will say the best part about the job is interacting with patients, and patients love this because they feel healthier. Pharmacists are happy they are making an impact,” Poling said.

Bill Drilling, PharmD, co-owner of Drilling Pharmacy in Sioux City, Iowa, has more than 50 years of experience in the field. Over his long career, he has found more and more individuals interested in talking about establishing a healthier way of life.

“We do wellness screenings at the pharmacy, and we do different lab tests—a complete lipid profile, HbA1c testing, glucose testing, [and more]—to try to screen [patients] who may not normally go to the doctor or can’t afford to go to the doctor,” he said. “There’s a huge segment of [patients] who are underinsured, so this is a big way we are trying to help keep [them] healthy.” Often, that means recommending different vitamins and supplements or talking about the importance of healthy diets.

Pharmacists can also offer education and support when a patient expresses interest in healthy eating as a New Year’s resolution. “One way that pharmacists can easily help is to point out dietary supplements on or near the pharmacy counter,” Bourgeois said. “These items may include protein powders, collagen powders, low-calorie snack bars, and other popular weight loss supplements that may help the patient achieve their New Year’s goal.”

Pharmacists can also provide handouts at the counter for patients to take home and discuss healthy lifestyle habits for the new year. has a free tool kit for health care professionals, with dozens of handouts on topics such as building healthy eating routines, cutting down on sugar, and making healthy drink choices. These small but important lifestyle changes can positively affect the overall health of a patient.

Additionally, Bourgeois noted that because pharmacists are responsible for completing medication therapy management (MTM) services for select patients, it’s a great opportunity for pharmacists to counsel the patient on more than medications. “When I complete an MTM case, I take this opportunity to speak with the patient about diet and other lifestyle factors,” she said. “I ask open-ended questions such as ‘On a scale from 1 to 10, how well do you feel today?’ Then I ask more questions from there to learn more about the patient’s current health challenges and identify areas where I can provide both education and support.”

Kathy M. Campbell, PharmD, a 30-year veteran pharmacist in Tulsa, Oklahoma, thinks pharmacists are uniquely suited to look at a patient’s life and medication and instantly start helping them optimize metabolic function. “Starting to talk to patients about a plant-focused eating strategy is a critical first step,” she said. “If you can eat more plants, you can prevent a lot of chronic health conditions that most [patients] want to prevent. Community pharmacy is uniquely positioned to help [them] understand the importance of such a transition.”

Simona Dorf, PharmD, BCMAS, clinical pharmacist at First Databank in South San Francisco, California, noted that pharmacists can help reinforce exercise, a healthy diet, and adherence to therapies. “Patients often come in looking for a quick solution to weight management, such as a water pill to help them lose 5 pounds quickly, a detoxification treatment, or any [FDA-approved OTC] weight loss medication,” she said. “Some are looking for supplements. Pharmacists can help steer patients toward evidence-based medicine and help promote a healthy lifestyle. They can encourage patients to start an exercise program [such as] walking and record[ing] progress with a wearable device.” Pharmacists can also help dispel fads and provide references to reputable weight loss websites and advice.

An estimated 133 million Americans are living with at least 1 chronic illness such as hypertension, heart disease, or diabetes. With the obesity epidemic reaching an all-time high, health care professionals have an obligation to use whatever skills and tools are available to help patients.

That’s why many pharmacies are incorporating wellness initiatives and programs into their pharmacy models. In addition to the programs at the pharmacy counter, hundreds of pharmacists offer online services to provide patient education and support in areas such as stress reduction, weight loss, diabetes management, and more.

At Drilling Pharmacy, many customers talk about quitting smoking at the beginning of a new year. Pharmacists there initiated a smoking cessation program that has proven to be very successful.

“We’re also in partnership with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Pharmacy Association, and we’re screening [patients] for diabetes. The local YMCA has a prevention program, so if we can catch [symptoms] early enough, we can keep [patients] from [developing] diabetes,” Drilling said. “We’re handing out literature and trying to get more [patients] signed up for the program.”

Campbell sells vegetables at her pharmacy in the summer and provides recipes at the counter for healthy meals her patients can create. She also gives a TED Talk about weight loss, hosts cooking classes aimed at healthier eating, and conducts a monthly seminar at her pharmacy to better educate her patients.

“One of the opportunities that pharmacy has is to create support groups and education initiatives,” she said. “Having a brick-and-mortar [pharmacy] is a real advantage right now, because people want to get together.” Pharmacists can also promote wellness with preventive care modalities such as administering immunizations and providing education on lifestyle adjustments, vitamins/supplements, and other holistic care modalities using evidence-based medicine.

“Additionally, pharmacists can screen patients [for] mental health [conditions] as well as the status of their chronic disease states [such as] HbA1c tests, lipid panels, and blood pressure measurements,” Entsuah noted. “Pharmacists are not diagnosticians; however, the pharmacist can play a very important role in establishing a treatment plan once a diagnosis is made.”

Despite the help that pharmacists can offer their patients, most patients don’t think of the pharmacy as a place to receive advice about diets and living a healthier lifestyle. It’s vital that pharmacists let their patients know what they can do to be a part of their patients’ wellness journeys.

“The role of community pharmacists is to provide care and compassion to their patients in everyday interactions, whether that’s a smile, listening, or explaining the patient’s medications,” Bourgeois said. “I believe one of the most important responsibilities of pharmacists is to be proactive in asking questions of their patients to offer better assistance and education about services available to help their patients get and stay healthy.”

Campbell believes marketing should be done on a large scale for the profession but on a small scale when pharmacists are counseling patients about medication at the point of sale. “They need to ask [patients] how they’re doing with their diet and then offer them solutions to possibly improve those outcomes,” she explained. “I ask everyone how they’re doing and [say] I would appreciate seeing their lab results so I can support their best outcome.”

Placing posters near the pharmacy, advertising on the pharmacy website, allowing patients to schedule appointments online, and listing the types of services available are other ways that retail pharmacies can help get the word out about the wellness services their pharmacists can provide. “One of the best ways pharmacists can let their patients know they are here to help is by offering patients their time, asking questions, and trying to understand the challenges their patients are facing,” Dorf said. “Taking the time to make each patient feel valued and heard and providing meaningful advice is how pharmacists can build trust and a large following. The rest is word of mouth and great reviews.”

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