College of Pharmacy research project reaches out to elderly

October 8, 2009

Seniors living in rural areas of Hawaiʻi may benefit from medication safety education that will be provided by the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy. The project was recently awarded $331,254 over a one-year period from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grants Program administered through the Cooperative State Research and Extension Service (CSREES).

According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, most of Hawaiʻi is medically underserved with primary care staff shortages, especially in rural areas. Excluding Honolulu county, census estimates indicate that there were over 50,000 residents in Hawaiʻi age 65 and over in 2007.

"Research has shown that seniors have a greater risk of preventable adverse drug events and that medication therapy management is one of the primary health and safety issues associated with aging," said Dr. Karen Pellegrin, principal investigator for the project. "This medication safety issue is exacerbated in rural areas by limited access to specialized healthcare services. The purpose of this project is to develop, deliver and evaluate the impact of medication safety education pertaining to the elderly."

One of the reasons the project was chosen to receive the grant is because it seeks partnerships with existing community health-related groups, said Dr. Shirley A. Gerrior, national program leader in the Families, 4-H and Nutrition unit at CSREES.

"The project promotes sustainability and community outreach with plans to adapt educational seminars and information for delivery through eXtension, an interactive learning environment connecting consumers with providers," said Gerrior. "This project is an innovative and relevant program that brings together pharmacy professionals and seniors in rural Hawai’i via seminars in an otherwise isolated setting."

Advanced pharmacy students, under the supervision of a faculty member, will travel to rural communities throughout Hawaiʻi, including all of the Neighbor Islands, to provide seminars to the public. Pharmacy practice faculty will also provide continuing education to physicians and other clinicians in rural areas via distance technology. These "webinars" will allow busy clinicians to earn credits toward their license renewal from the convenience of their home or office.

"Our advanced-level student pharmacists will assist with this project as the College of Pharmacy continues its mission to improve healthcare in rural and underserved areas of the state," said Dr. Scott Holuby, assistant professor in Pharmacy who will supervise the students in the program. “The role of the pharmacist is changing nationwide and the College of Pharmacy is helping to lead the way in the state of Hawaiʻi.”

Pellegrin said the two-pronged approach is designed to improve patient outcomes by changing practices of those who prescribe medication for the elderly and increasing safety behaviors of the elderly who take medications and their caregivers.

For more information about this project and the College of Pharmacy, call (808) 933-3866.

See more news from 2009.