Telepharmacy program wins safety award

February 19, 2007

The Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) is the recipient of the 2006 Award for Excellence in Medication-Use Safety. McLeod Regional Medical Center and St. Joseph's/Candler Health System were honored as award finalists. The three sites were chosen by a multidisciplinary team based on four criteria: medication use system initiative/scope, planning and implementation, measurable outcomes and impact, and innovation and applicability.

In 2004, ASHP's Research and Education Foundation created the Award for Excellence in Medication-Use Safety. The award, sponsored by Cardinal Health Foundation, nationally recognizes a pharmacist-led multidisciplinary team that has assumed a leadership role in promoting safety in the medication-use process. This is the only award program to honor such a team for institutionwide system improvements related to medication use.

"The telepharmacy program allows pharmacists to review the medication orders, patient medication history, and check for allergies to medications." The ANMC pharmacist enters the order into the computer, which then connects with a machine in the village to dispense the medication-along with a label containing the patient's information.

Establishing the program was not an easy task. Givens ascribes the overall success of the program to the staff, all of whom stepped out of their comfort zone to contribute a tremendous amount of time and dedication. "This complex process required a multidisciplinary team. Most of the villages are in remote areas that do not have access roads. At first it was difficult, because the staff had to set up and test the equipment in each of the villages."

According to Givens, the telepharmacy program has been a success since its establishment in 2003. The program has improved access to medications, allowing the ANMC to record prescribing trends and pharmacists to have greater in-fluence over prescribing habits. It encourages medication adherence and helps make medications cost-effective for patients. Additionally, the number of prescriptions per month increased from less than 1,000 to more than 1,600.

According to Givens, the Alaska Native Medical Center is one of the first places in the world to establish a telepharmacy program. A number of other facilities in the United States are considering starting a similar program, and Givens and his staff are willing to answer questions and provide suggestions to any institution that would like to start a similar program.

ANMC and the other finalists were formally recognized at an invitation-only luncheon during the 2006 ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in December, and ANMC will present its work at an educational session at the ASHP 2007 Summer Meeting in San Francisco. The award winner received $50,000 and the two finalists took in $10,000 each.

THE AUTHOR is a writer based in New Jersey.