The USC School of Pharmacy has received a $12 million grant, the largest donation the school has ever received.
KPCC reports that this grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, will fund a program that places pharmacists alongside doctors at clinics in low-income communities. This aims to promote the "appropriate use" of prescription drugs and ensure that patients understand their medications.
"The project is designed to address both the widespread misuse of prescribed medications and the shortage of primary care providers in low-income populations,” said Geoffrey Joyce, an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy. “Further, pharmacists are remarkably underutilized in the U.S. health care system, and this demonstration will test and evaluate the impact of using them in primary care settings.”
The misuse of prescription drugs across America is on the rise, causing unnecessary hospital visits and racking up almost $290 billion in spending each year on avoidable medical costs, according to a statement from USC. More than half of all Americans have at least one chronic disease, and for most of these people, medication is their primary treatment -- so by finding ways to ensure their medicine is taken properly, this program aims to reduce medical costs and improve patient health.
This experimental system will be implemented through a partnership between USC and a chain of Southern California community clinics called AltaMed. AltaMed has 43 locations in underserved communities throughout LA and Orange counties, that offer primary care for families along with dental and long-term care for seniors.
Three locations in Orange County will serve as the testing ground for the new program -- with plans to eventually expand it to locations in Los Angeles County as well.
Each of AltaMed's chosen sites will be staffed by a USC-provided pharmacy team that includes two pharmacists, two pharmacy residents and two pharmacy technicians. Together the university and the clinic will work to treat eligible patients, train the pharmacists and eventually expand the program to other sites.
"Most times the patient only interacts with the pharmacist at the retail pharmacy," said Dr. Martin Serota, Chief Medical Officer at AltaMed. He explained that by having a pharmacist actually in the room with the doctor, they can help ensure that patients are being prescribed the right medication in the right amount, and not taking anything that will interact with other drugs in a negative manner.
Often times patients may have multiple health care providers, Serota said, or fail to tell their doctor all the medications they're taking, so there's a lot of room for error when it comes to prescriptions.
A small portion of the $12 million has been allotted to AltaMed, but most of the grant will go to USC to recruit and train additional pharmacists and study the outcome of this project. Serota said they hope to have the new program up-and-running in three to six months.
Photo credit: Flickr via Sarah Macmillan