Pittsburgh students conduct community outreach program to promote the safe use of OTCs

April 21, 2008

University of Pittsburgh school of pharmacy students train outpatients on how to use over-the-counter medications safely.

A national study has found that on average only 43% of patients speak with a pharmacist prior to purchasing an over-the-counter medication. With more OTC medications being introduced onto the market every day and many drugs being switched from prescription to OTC status, it is important for pharmacists to be able to effectively educate patients about these products and the importance of reading the drug facts label, which was introduced in 2002 to help simplify the information provided to consumers.

To accomplish these goals, we undertook a community outreach program recently with the help of pharmacy students. In addition, our project provided patients with information regarding medication therapy management (MTM) available at their pharmacy and the opportunity to have their blood pressure monitored. This project also intended to make patients aware that pharmacists are able to help them choose appropriate OTC medications.

Prior to the program, each student was given a preparation packet, which described the objectives of the project, as well as a copy of all brochures, information about OTC medications, and tips for checking blood pressure. The students reviewed this information and practiced taking blood pressure prior to the sessions.

After visiting the table, patients were invited to complete a survey. This survey assessed the number of medications (both prescription and OTC) the patients used and their knowledge and use of OTC medications, including how often they read the OTC label prior to taking OTC medications, whether they discussed the use of OTCs with their physician or pharmacist prior to taking them, and how likely they would be to discuss OTC use with their physician or pharmacist after participating in the program.

A total of 73 patients stopped by the education table during the scheduled sessions. The patients ranged in age from 18 to 81. Twenty patients expressed interest in learning more about the New Drug Facts Label and were instructed on how to read them. Blood pressure screenings were performed on 55 people; an additional 18 patients did not have their blood pressure checked, but were interested in receiving educational materials.

Through this community event, we were able to reach more than 70 patients and provide them with very valuable knowledge regarding OTC medications. In addition, this program also helped to enhance patients' knowledge about the importance of speaking with their physician or pharmacist prior to using an OTC medication. At the end of the program most patients were either definitely going to speak with their pharmacist prior to future OTC use, or reported being more likely to do so. Most patients also took the educational materials that were offered and therefore walked away with very valuable tools they could use to improve their own safe medication usage, as well as share them with family and friends.

This program was also a good learning experience for students. It helped to make them more confident in communicating with and counseling patients about medications, as well as in taking blood pressure. It also made them aware of the value of community events to incorporate into their future pharmacy practice.

Thanks to this project, awareness about OTC medication safety was increased within this community. Furthermore, patients learned that pharmacists are available and willing to answer their questions and assist them in selecting the safest and most effective OTC medication.

References are available upon request.

TEGAN WILLIAMS is a Pharm.D. candidate, JANELLE STIEFEL is a Pharm.D. candidate, DEANNE HALL is an assistant professor, and KAREN S. PATER is an assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.