Pharmacist helps elderly inpatients make the transition home again

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When pharmacist Anya Kelly sits down with patients, most of whom are elderly, the first thing she does is ask them to go through each and every medication – prescription as well as over-the-counter – they are taking. Sometimes the list of pills, puffers and other miscellaneous remedies is lengthy.

“Seniors have an average of six conditions which usually have to be treated with pharmaceuticals,” Kelly says. “That means they’re using more and more medications and it gets incredibly complicated.”

Kelly is the first pharmacist in Kingston to qualify as a Certified Geriatric Pharmacist – a designation she obtained through course work and an exam. In her role at Providence Care’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital site in Kingston, she uses her special expertise when she meets with inpatients who are about to be discharged, as well as clients of the specialized geriatrics Day Hospital.

“Going through their prescriptions gives my clients a sense of control to know what their medications do,” Kelly says. “I go over each one – and it scares me what I hear sometimes, the myths some people believe about their medications just because they’ve heard it might be true.”

Medication management is a serious matter, in particular for senior citizens. Kelly notes that a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that if adverse reactions to medications were counted as a distinct disease, it would rank as the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.

“This is where the role of the pharmacist becomes so important,” Kelly says. “I try to make sure patients understand what a prescription is for, how and when to take it, and when it is dangerous to combine it with other over-the-counter medications.”

Once Kelly has met with an inpatient who is ready to make the transition from Providence Care back home, she prepares a personalized medication list and puts it in a bright yellow duo-tang to make sure it can be easily located at home. A copy of this medication list is also sent to the patient’s family doctor and community pharmacist.

“I am part of a team that provides ‘seamless care’,” Kelly says. “The process is vital for optimum patient care as the community pharmacist and the family doctor are involved in the ongoing care of the patients after they have been discharged. They need to be informed of what medication changes occurred while the patient was in the hospital.”

For Teresa Knott, Kelly’s plain-talk approach and the time Kelly spent answering questions about her prescriptions was not only useful – it was reassuring. “Being able to ask questions and get it explained to you is so helpful,” Knott says. “When you get older you hesitate to do that with doctors. I felt so comfortable and relieved.”

Teresa’s daughter Christine also felt a huge weight lifted off her shoulders. “Kelly gave mom her confidence back to manage her own medications,” Christine says. “It’s all about the time Kelly was able to spend with her.”

Kelly earned her designation as a Certified Geriatric Pharmacist last summer and is required to recertify every five years. She says being better educated about seniors’ health issues is a huge advantage, given southeastern Ontario’s aging population. “As a geriatric pharmacist I have that extra training and awareness about medication effects in seniors and I can work with the community pharmacist and family doctor to reduce the adverse effects,” Kelly says.

“Going through a patient’s prescriptions gives my clients a sense of control to know what their medications do,” Kelly continues. “And it makes me feel as though I’ve made a difference. Seniors are incredibly appreciative – I have a very rewarding job.”