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Pharmacies help hospitals coach patients

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Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013 6:45 pm | Updated: 9:10 pm, Sun Mar 24, 2013.

SARASOTA - A federal government crackdown gives hospitals incentive to keep people out of the hospital, and it has sent some hospitals to the drug store for help.

“You could say I'm a frequent flier,” says Ramon Ramos. He suffered the first of several heart attacks last February 18 that have landed him in Sarasota Memorial Hospital's ER several times. “I'm on free miles.” He credits SMH's heart failure treatment center with keeping him alive as he waits for a heart transplant.

“I love them all,” he says. “But I want to stay out of the hospital.”

Strange as it may sound, so does the hospital.

“First of all, it's good for the patient,” says Spence Hudon, Clinical Manager for its heart failure treatment center.

From Medicare's view, it's good for the taxpayer. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that one in five Medicare patients who leave the hospital must go back within 30 days – at a cost of more than $17 billion a year. And the problem often starts as soon as the patient leaves.

“Research says that one in three prescriptions that are written are not even filled,” says Kay Harris, a pharmacist at Walgreens, which has a store in the Waldemere Medical Center, right next to SMH's cardiac care center. In a program it calls Well Transitions, Walgreens contracts with hospitals like SMH to follow up with patients like Ramos.

“I had a nurse that's gone to the house, and talked to me all about the medicine, explained everything to me,” he says.

The partnership brings the pharmacy business, and lifts some of the burden from the hospital. “They have resources that we don't have on these patients we ask them to see,” says Hudon. SMH uses the Well Transitions program in its heart failure treatment center because its patients are some of the most likely to have to return to the hospital. It's just one of its efforts to educate patients, but credits it for having one of the lowest re-admission rates in Florida, and in the country.

Ramos says it works for him too. “I've been out of the hospital now 65 days exactly,” he says.

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