USC School of Pharmacy to double presence in safety-net clinics

LOS ANGELES — The School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California announced on Wednesday that it will double its presence in clinics and medical homes that deliver healthcare services to the uninsured, the poor and the homeless.

The school began providing clinical pharmacy services in safety-net clinics in 2002 and currently is a key partner with 12 such clinics in Southern California. The new USC Medication Therapy and Safety Initiative aims to increase the school's coverage to 24 clinics and medical homes by 2013.

"The USC School of Pharmacy's work in safety-net clinics enables us to have a direct and positive impact on the city's most at-risk residents," stated R. Pete Vanderveen, the school's dean. "And since these economic problems face the entire country, we are urging our fellow pharmacy schools to increase their outreach efforts as well."

This increased commitment to community is desperately needed, with the continuing economic crisis making these clinics even more vital to meeting the health needs of underprivileged communities, as demand increases and public funding decreases, the school noted. New census statistics show that more than 15% of Americans live below the national poverty level. In California, more that 16% are in poverty and nearly 20% lack health insurance. Los Angeles County alone is home to more than 2.7 million uninsured.

A USC clinical study demonstrated that integrating pharmacy services into safety-net clinics and medical homes results in measurable improvements in care. For example, hypertension patients had reduced blood pressure, and patients with diabetes showed improvements in blood-glucose control. 

The launch of this new initiative coincides with American Pharmacists Month, which recognizes the profession's role in improving patient care.

"Staff pharmacists, working under protocols, adjust prescribed therapies and provide patient education to help ensure that each patient reaches treatment goals safely and effectively," stated Steven Chen, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and one of the school's leading faculty serving in safety-net clinics.

The improved patient outcomes and cost savings that occur when pharmacists are part of patient-centric healthcare teams have been shown in clinical settings ranging from hospitals to the Department of Veterans Affairs. A healthier population, in turn, should help drive down healthcare costs by keeping patients healthier and out of the emergency room and hospital. Furthermore, having a pharmacist manage medication therapy for the most complicated patients increases access to health care, as it frees up the physician to see more patients.

Pharmacy students and residents benefit from the program as well, since the clinics provide training for a diverse population and a wide range of diseases and conditions. For the faculty members who provide services, the clinics also offer opportunities for research and to collect crucial data regarding health outcomes, medication safety, health literacy and cultural competency that ultimately will lead to further advances in care.

Increasing the number of clinics and medical homes where students and residents are trained also is important because the more exposure they gain to such facilities, the more likely they'll choose to dedicate their careers to helping people in these settings, according to Vanderveen. 

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