Ohio student pharmacists educate refugees

Newly resettled refugees' most-asked questions are insurance-related and general questions about U.S. health care system or pharmacies

Student pharmacists lead pharmacy area and OTC aisle tour for Bhutanese refugee participants.

Newly resettled refugees from troubled countries such as Bhutan, Somalia, and Iraq are learning how to navigate the unfamiliar U.S. health care and pharmacy system through a pharmacy education program held at Kroger pharmacies in the greater Columbus, OH, area. Created by Grace Kilbane, PharmD, MBA, and Hyun-Su Helen Kim, PharmD, when they were fourth-year student pharmacists at Ohio State University, the program reaches this medically underserved population during a vulnerable time for the refugees.
“It is a great way of welcoming refugees into the community,” said Kim, noting that refugees can be at higher risk for developing mental illnesses because of their past experiences and current resettlement issues.
Through Ohio State’s Partner for Promotion program—a collaboration among Ohio State’s College of Pharmacy faculty, student pharmacists, and community pharmacists—Kilbane and Kim partnered with Kroger Pharmacy and refugee resettlement agencies to offer the program. During 2-hour interactive sessions, refugees learn about services a pharmacy offers, different stations (windows) in a community pharmacy, the difference between OTC and prescription medications, how to read a prescription label, how to open different kinds of medication caps and bottles, the concept of refills, and insurance and payment issues. The presentation portion of the program is followed by an interactive tour of the pharmacy that allows time for participants to ask further questions.
Most frequently asked are insurance-related and general questions about the U.S. health care system or pharmacies, according to Kim. Refugees want to know, for example, why certain prescription and OTC medications are not covered by insurance, why doctors can’t dispense medications when patients see them in their office, and why a medication needs to be filled every month instead of providing the entire amount up front. They want to know how to distinguish a pharmacist and a doctor in a hospital setting. They ask why there are so many different kinds of insurance plans.
“It is always difficult to provide an easy explanation for the system-related questions, especially when student presenters first encounter such questions,” said Kim. “Some of the things that are taken for granted for people accustomed to the U.S. health care or pharmacy system are viewed as unusual by newly resettled refugees who are from a completely different health care system.”
Student pharmacist presenters have come up against obstacles, primarily language barriers, noted Kim. “We’ve tried to deliver the presentation in English in the past, but it was not a success. The presentation became much less interactive, and the presenters had a difficult time gauging refugee participants’ understanding of the content,” she said. Now an interpreter is provided at each session. 
Transportation can be another obstacle. The refugees usually do not have a secure form of transportation unless there is easy access to public transportation. Currently, the refugee resettlement agency provides transportation to Kroger Pharmacy and back to participants’ homes, but this may not be the most sustainable model for others.
Kim is currently working on a toolkit to share resources with anyone who is interested in running a similar program.