One to One awardees help patients understand, stay adherent to therapy

Pharmacists provide superior counseling


The two One to One Patient Counseling Recognition Program awardees featured this month believe in tailoring care to each patient. One, a pharmacy professor, went to a former patient’s house to help her understand her new diagnosis and complex medications. The other cares for patients with mental health issues by ensuring that patients have access to their medications and are adherent to therapy.

The One to One Patient Counseling Recognition Program is made possible with the generous and ongoing support of McNeil Consumer Healthcare.

Helping a patient in need

Stefanie Nigro, PharmD, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy in Middletown, went the extra mile to help Tiffany Morales, a former patient, understand her multiple conditions and medications.

Morales was a regular patient at Nigro’s pharmacy, where she had several monthly prescriptions filled. Morales was recently told that, in addition to diabetes and high blood pressure, her liver was infected with hepatitis C. She was slated to start treatment 2 weeks later and felt overwhelmed.

By chance, the two women bumped into each other at a grocery store after Nigro no longer worked at the pharmacy at which Morales filled her prescriptions. Morales was feeling a little down and shared with Nigro that she felt confused by her new diagnosis. She was hesitant to administer the injections because she had a fear of needles. Nigro went over to Morales’s home where she provided counseling and written information about hepatitis C. She also showed Morales how to use the Pegasys injection. “I was still overwhelmed, so Stefanie asked if she could help me with my injection,” Morales wrote in Nigro’s nomination letter. “I must say, when she gave it, it was painless.”

A few days later, Nigro called to check on Morales and to tell her about a support website and a nursing hotline where she could get additional information. Nigro also mailed Morales additional resources. “I know that I still have a way to go with the treatment, but I am so happy that Stefanie was there to help and coach me. Even though she does not live locally anymore, I am still proud to call her my pharmacist,” Morales wrote.

Advocate and voice for patients

As a pharmacist and an advocate for patients with mental health issues, Steve Protzel, PharmD, Pharmacy Manager at Safeway Pharmacy in San Francisco, strives to make a positive impact on as many patients as possible.

Often patients with mental illness are misrepresented, underserved, and even, at times, mistreated. Medication adherence is paramount to recovery for patients with mental health issues because it helps them become independent and productive members of society. Protzel’s compassion and dedication are crucial to his patients. He plays a critical role in his patients’ lives by ensuring that they have access to their medications and continue taking them. On countless occasions, Protzel has helped his patients acquire their medications, delivered medications to patients’ residences, and followed up to make sure they understand how to take their medications.

Protzel was instrumental in developing the first outpatient mental health injection site at Safeway. He also helped develop the Medication Adherence Project that employs direct observation therapy for mental health patients to improve medication outcomes and reduce hospitalizations for mental health patients. He works closely with mental health residential care administrators to help them understand their residents’ needs and limitations and what is required to provide the best care for these patients.

Protzel is actively involved with various health organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the San Mateo Mental Health Board, and the Berkeley Mental Health Group. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 Safeway Community Hero Award and the 2010 Justice as Fairness Award.

Protzel’s primary motivation for helping patients is their wellness. He recalled a patient who told him he had given him his life back by helping him get the medications he needed to be stable and functional. For him, helping this patient was an honor. Protzel has created specialized monitoring and packaging to improve patient adherence.

“Steve’s commitment and service in the area of mental health exemplifies the dedication and compassion needed to take care of this special group of patients. … His contributions are invaluable to his patients and his community,” wrote Protzel’s nominator, Stan Leung, PharmD, Patient Care Manager at Safeway.