College of Pharmacy awarded $14.3 million to develop system to save health care costs

June 15, 2012

A pharmacist-care system designed to save more than $27.1 million in health care costs in Hawaiʻi will be developed by the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy (CoP) thanks to a $14.3 million award from the federal government.

The three-year project, called Pharm2Pharm, will be coordinated at CoP’s Center for Rural Health Science and is funded through the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the second of two announcements regarding the national awards in Illinois June 15.

“This project gives us the ability to reach out to thousands of Hawaiʻi residents and improve health care while we expand the job market for our pharmacy graduates and give our current students a heightened educational experience,” said Dean John M. Pezzuto. “Meanwhile, on a national level, the College of Pharmacy competed successfully against more than 3,000 other highly qualified applicants for this funding, which wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of Dr. Karen Pellegrin, director for the Center for Rural Health Science. With this grant, and another major federal project that she led two years ago, we are proving that the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo can be a model for improved health care throughout the country.”

Pharm2Pharm is designed to reduce medication-related hospitalizations and Emergency Room visits by establishing teamwork between hospital and community pharmacists. It will affect all three rural counties in the state of Hawaiʻi – Hawaiʻi Island, Maui and Kauaʻi – where, according to Hawaiʻi Health Information Corporation, there were more than 15,000 medication-related Emergency Room visits and more than 700 medication-related hospitalizations among elderly in 2010.

“Charges for medication-related hospitalizations and ER visits among the elderly in rural counties of Hawaiʻi add up to about $60 million per year,” said Pellegrin, who also is CoP’s Director of Continuing/Distance Education and Strategic Planning. “We believe that by advancing the role of the community pharmacist and improving collaboration and communication with hospital pharmacists, we can lower those costs and improve patient care.”

Patient satisfaction and medication safety will be improved for all high-risk patients within the first year, Pellegrin said. Using health information technology, Pharm2 Pharm will increase communication between the various pharmacists providing care from the time a patient is admitted or discharged from a hospital. The system establishes hospital pharmacists as key members of a medical care team, giving them better access to find discrepancies. Pharm2Pharm also empowers community pharmacists, especially those working in independent pharmacies, to utilize their training and take charge of medication management after hospital stays.

“We can increase the chances of patients staying healthy after a hospital visit by raising the visibility and effectiveness of both community and hospital pharmacists as members of a health care team,” Pellegrin said.

Hospital partners for the project are Hawaiʻi Health Systems Corporation, which operates the only acute care hospital on Maui and in Kona and Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island, and Hawaiʻi Pacific Health, which operates the only acute care hospital on Kauaʻi.

Infrastructure Partners include Hawaiʻi Health Information Exchange and Hawaiʻi Health Information Corporation.

Community pharmacy partners from Hawaiʻi Island include: Shiigi Drug Co., Ululani Pharmacy, Kamehameha Pharmacy, Oshima Store, Menehune Pharmacy, Lifeway Pharmacy-Waimea, and KTA Pharmacies; Maui county: Maui Clinic Pharmacy, Paia Pharmacy, Makawao Town Pharmacy, Rainbow Pharmacy and Molokai Drugs; Kauaʻi: Lifeway Pharmacy-Koloa, North Shore Pharmacy, Westside Pharmacy, Kapaa Pharmacy, Lihue Professional Pharmacy, Lihue Pharmacy, Papalina Pharmacy, Lifeway Pharmacy-Lihue.

Les Krenk, RPh, owner of three independent pharmacies on Maui, founding officer of the Hawaiʻi Community Pharmacist Association and partner/co-founder of the CoP Rural Pharmacy Residency program, said that involvement of these pharmacy partners is a strong show of support for the College, the Pharm2Pharm program, and the community.

“I personally know many pharmacists who welcome the opportunities this program presents,” Krenk said. “After going through the rigors of pharmacy training, we are already on the front line with the patients to help them combat whatever disease they face, but our skills are underutilized. The real winner here will be the patients, thanks to support provided by Pharm2Pharm. Bring it on.”

Other recipients of this national award included the University of Chicago and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The first group of organizations to win the awards announced May 8 included Emory University and University Hospitals of Cleveland. UH Hilo CoP is the only school of pharmacy to serve as a lead organization.

The College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is the only fully accredited school of pharmacy in the Pacific region. Degree programs include the professional PharmD, the PhD in pharmaceutical sciences, a Bachelor of Arts in Pharmacy Studies (BAPS), a Masters in Clinical Psychopharmacology (MSCP) for members of the armed forces, and a residency program in community pharmacy.

See more news from 2012.