Second annual health fair on Capitol Hill heightens pharmacy’s visibility

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Debbie Garza, BSPharm, Walgreens, stands to the left of the welcome poster. Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA); Heather Free, PharmD, Walgreens; APhA President Matthew Osterhaus, BSPharm, FASCP, FAPhA; and APhA Executive Vice President and CEO Thomas E. Menighan, BSPharm, MBA, ScD (Hon), FAPhA, stand to the right of the poster from left to right. They are flanked by student pharmacists from Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy and University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy. 

Student pharmacists from around the Washington, DC, area might be used to providing health screenings for patients, but it’s not every day that they get to do it on Capitol Hill.

“It’s great to see the interactions of student pharmacists with very influential patients,” APhA President Matthew Osterhaus, BSPharm, FASCP, FAPhA, told Pharmacy Today.

These student pharmacists, along with their professors, were part of the second annual health fair on Capitol Hill, which took place September 17 in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. The event allowed Members of Congress and their staff and aides, as well as the general public, to not only receive free health screenings and influenza vaccinations, but also to see the valuable role pharmacists play as members of the health care team. The health screenings included bone density, body composition, glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

“Pharmacists are the only health care provider some people will see on a regular basis. There are pharmacists and drugstores in almost every small, rural community, while physicians, nurse practitioners, and hospitals may be many miles away,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), lead cosponsor of H.R. 4190. H.R. 4190 is a bipartisan bill that would increase patient access to pharmacists’ patient care services and that has amassed 116 cosponsors.

The health fair was sponsored by the House Community Pharmacy Caucus, which is co-chaired by Reps. Austin Scott (R-GA) and Peter Welch (D-VT). “Our pharmacists are not only medication experts who ensure patients receive optimal attention when it comes to managing their medications, but they are also helping to provide access to care for Americans, particularly those in rural areas, by including the type of health screenings provided at today’s event,” Scott said.

The event was cohosted by APhA, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association, and Walgreens. Providing patient care services were several Washington, DC–area pharmacies and schools of pharmacy, including Howard University College of Pharmacy, Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy, Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and Walgreens.

Pharmacists’ patient care services

“I love showing people what we do,” said Matthew Boyd, a third-year student pharmacist at Shenandoah University. “I don’t think pharmacists brag enough about what they do or what they can do.”

Along with fellow Shenandoah University student pharmacists, and under the supervision of faculty members, Boyd was providing blood pressure screenings to a steady stream of people. He made sure their numbers were in normal range and then provided counseling—if needed—on the risks of hypertension, including stroke and heart attack, and any direction to follow up with a physician.

On one side of Boyd was a station for checking blood glucose and cholesterol with a CardioChek device. On the other side, a line of people waited to get their body composition tested. At that station, individuals could find out their body mass index, body fat, skeletal muscle, as well as their resting metabolism using a body composition sensing monitor and scale, which took into account the individual’s weight, height, and age.

Sheena Chu, a third-year student pharmacist at Notre Dame of Maryland, was able to explain what the test results meant. She provided reference points for appropriate ranges and supplemental literature and was able to answer questions individuals had.

“I like the advocating aspect of pharmacy,” she said. “You don’t realize how little people know, and we are so accessible to help them.”

One of those services most people aren’t aware pharmacists provide is bone density screening. At the health fair, there were two small ultrasound machines set up to measure the mass of the heel bone and to test people for osteopenia—the first indication of osteoporosis.

“Pharmacy students are taught bone density screening in the second year so they can go into their third and fourth year and do this in rotation,” said Deanna Tran, PharmD, BCACP, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

Students at the bone density screening booth also provided counseling on what the person’s score number meant and spoke to them about calcium intake and weight bearing exercises that could help strengthen their bones.

Influenza vaccinations

There was no question that most people came out to get an influenza vaccination—a new service at the health fair this year.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) was running to a meeting and said he only had time for an influenza vaccination, something he supports for all Americans.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) was also there for her annual influenza vaccination. “My staff went to the health fair last year, and this year I said I want to be a part of it,” she said.

“Pharmacists are one of the most trusted professionals, and they can play a bigger part under our changing health care system as the number of people needing health care services increases,” said Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX).

Stockman received his influenza vaccination first and planned to visit each screening station.

Building awareness for provider status

Joanna Boone, a pharmacy manager from a Walgreens store in Alexandria, VA, who was helping administer the vaccine, said she was happy to see a lot of traffic at the booth with influenza season right around the corner. She was also glad to be there making the public aware of the services pharmacists provide, especially with H.R. 4190 moving through Congress.

“This event is so significant for all pharmacists just to prove that we are providers and that we do deserve provider status,” said Boone. “It also shows we are widely accessible to the public and all the services we can provide—a lot of services that the public is not even aware of.”

Kevin Patrick Lonabaugh, a fourth-year student pharmacist at Shenandoah University, spoke about his experience in a rural setting and the impact he was able to have in the community.

He did a clinical rotation at a local Kmart pharmacy in Virginia where the same patients came in with lots of questions.

“We were the only provider some of these patients saw,” he said.

Student pharmacists at Shenandoah also work in a free medical clinic where they can offer vaccinations, blood glucose monitoring, and other types of screenings to the underserved.

Coverage for immunizations and certain screenings depends mostly on a person’s insurance plan, and some state Medicaid plans don’t cover everything. In addition, some states also restrict pharmacists from performing screenings and other medical services.

Heather Free, PharmD, Pharmacy Manager at Community, a Washington, DC, Walgreens store, pointed out that insurance companies are now starting to cover these services.

“That’s another big reason why we need H.R. 4190 passed,” she said.

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