It’s common these days for patients to have prescriptions filled at many different pharmacies and decline even the quickest medication consultation. These habits are time-saving, but they can distance us from recognizing pharmacists as patient advocates who can offer valuable healthcare advice. That’s why at Encompass Health rehabilitation hospitals, pharmacist aren’t only found behind the counter— they’re at the bedside.
Unlike the drugstore or acute care setting, Encompass Health offers pharmacists the unique opportunity to walk alongside patients on their road to recovery from stroke, spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders, joint replacements, trauma and other conditions. Like the rest of the rehabilitation care team, pharmacists play a critical role in patient safety.
As a pharmacist at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Braintree in Massachusettes, John Komry takes that responsibility to heart. When a patient is admitted, he carefully reviews their medication list and counsels the person on side effects to anticipate during treatment. When a patient is preparing for discharge, Komry can be found at the bedside giving lessons on how to manage their condition after returning home.
“It’s vital that patients understand how medications can affect their condition. If the person has diabetes, I’ll also talk to them about physical activity and how to improve their diet instead of relying solely on the insulin,” Komry said.
Komry feels that pharmacists are like teachers: their knowledge is best shared with others.
“Patients are often being prescribed a medication they’ve never heard of and possibly can’t even pronounce, meanwhile I’ve studied the drug for years,” he said. “So for me to break it down— to make sure they know what the drug is for, what dose is needed and why it works— it’s really my honor to educate them.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
As part of an interdisciplinary team, Komry consults with a patient’s doctors and nurses in order to get a big picture view of their treatment plan. If the patient is active in therapy, Komry coordinates with his or her therapy team when medication side effects such as dizziness or tiredness might impact their physical performance. This up-close involvement in patient care is what sets the inpatient rehabilitation environment apart from other pharmacy settings.
“This is a very unique setting for a pharmacist. I spend half my day talking with patients, making sure we’re sending them home on a safe, effective medication plan,” Komry said. “Often when a patient comes straight from the acute-care setting, we’ll see mistakes on their medication list, likely because they were rushed through the system. We’re positioned to take more time getting it right.”
In addition to dispensing drugs in accordance to legal and regulatory requirements, Encompass Health pharmacists can also serve on a variety of hospital committees. Komry is a member of Encompass Health Braintree’s pharmacy & theraputics committee, a team of clinicians and leaders who decide which drugs the hospital will stock. He also serves on a committee that manages fall prevention measures within the hospital, and an antimicrobial stewardship committee that helps reduce the overuse of antibiotics.
When time permits, Komry mentors local pharmacy students on introductory pharmacy practices, a partnership he believes is mutually beneficial. While he teaches students the basics of pharmacology and shows them the ropes of the inpatient rehabilitation setting, they expose him to fresh perspectives and emerging pharmacy trends.
Advocating for patient safety and success
Komry is aware of the problems facing the pharmaceutical industry today— namely the opioid crisis. Encompass Health is committed to aiding in the fight against opioid misuse, advocating for multi-displinary therapy as a solution for long term injury management. When therapy alone can’t alleviate pain, our clinicians seek alternatives to addicting drugs. If a patient is taking narcotics as needed, the goal is to reduce that need before discharge.
Working toward that goal, Komry and hospital leaders at Encompass Health Braintree recently partnered with Cerner Corporation, Encompass Health’s electronic health records vendor, to generate daily reports that inform pharmacists when patients are no longer taking an as-needed opioid. Formally removing the drug from their medication list prior to discharge can ensure the patient isn’t sent home with unneeded drugs that can be mishandled, abused or stolen.
The role of the pharmacist continues to evolve, and it certainly involves more than verifying scripts. At the bedside, Komry and others can witness and celebrate the successes that patients experience on their journey to independence. He’s a steward of medication management, an enforcer of safety measures and an advocate for patients’ recovery.
Previous pharmacy roles may have left Komry feeling disconnected from patients, but that’s not the case in the hospital setting, and it’s a big part of why he chose to work at Encompass Health.
“Prior jobs I’ve held didn’t satisfy what I really want to do: help people. I love the gratitude that patients have when they learn something that no one has ever told them before. I know they can safely handle their medicines when they get home because we did our jobs well.”