From antihypertensives to chemotherapeutic agents, pharmaceuticals hold the power to alleviate symptoms, send cancer into remission and manage chronic conditions, but many patients lack the means to pay for their prescriptions. Nurses understand the value of taking medications as ordered and have come up with ways to help patients obtain the drugs they need.
Its rewarding when we get the medication for them, says Karen Kallens, RN, coordinator of the Hunterdon County Medication Access Program at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, N.J. The program helps low-income, uninsured patients access pharmaceutical companies prescription assistance programs through the industry-sponsored Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
Capital Health in Trenton, N.J., and New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York also operate medication assistance programs, but each is a little different.
Hunterdon Medical CenterPhoto courtesy of Hunterdon Medical Center
Karen Kallens, RN, left, helps a patient at Hunterdon Medical Center with paperwork for prescription drug assistance. She teaches patients about their diseases and how to care for themselves.
Hunterdon Medical Center began its program in 2004 with funding from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Community Grants program. The company accepts grant applications year-round from nonprofit groups serving communities near its facilities in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts in support of programs that address unmet medical needs, reduce health disparities, improve education or meet another Bristol-Myers objective.
We funded a mechanism to help patients in need find a way to get their medicines, says Frederick J. Egenolf, spokesperson for Bristol-Myers Squibb. These patient assistance programs are helping people navigate the system.
Since its inception, the Hunterdon program has helped nearly 2,000 patients secure more than $2 million in free prescriptions, according to a news release. ED visits by participating patients declined by 30% and more than 250 patients receive medications through the Hunterdon program.
Fellow nurses, physicians, hospital staff or friends can refer patients to the program. Kallens screens them, assessing their needs and eligibility for other assistance, and refers patients who qualify for additional services to the appropriate program.
We also do patient teaching in regard to their medication, disease processes, diet and exercise, Kallens says. Its more comprehensive than helping patients with paperwork.
Once patients meet the income and asset requirements and are approved, drug companies ship a 90-day supply to their physicians office. Most of the medications treat chronic conditions. If a patient needs an immediate antibiotic, Kallens will help the person try to find that drug through another avenue.
Hunterdon handles refill requests and will help qualified patients re-enroll annually. People often leave the program when they find work, but the core population requires continued assistance. Kallens says she enjoys the patient contact and problem solving.
Capital HealthMadelyn Lamb
Bristol-Myers Squibb granted Capital Health funds to start a prescription assistance program in Trenton in 2006. It paid for an on-site Partnership for Prescription Assistance computer kiosk where patients, volunteers or staff can enter information and determine which assistance programs best meet the patients needs.
Former nurse Madelyn Lamb and two other volunteers headed up the initiative at the hospitals Family Health Clinic at the Mercer campus. Lamb continues to volunteer with the program, meeting with patients once a week to review tax documents, pay stubs and other documents and to complete the forms necessary to secure needed prescriptions. That may require multiple applications to different drug companies. Capital Health volunteers and the part-time employee do not provide patient teaching. Once approved, the drug companies ship the drugs to the clinic. About 180 patients are enrolled in the program.
It is extremely gratifying work, Lamb says. I dont think anyone who has been exposed to it has not come away feeling she has done something extremely worthwhile.
Patients often tell Lamb the program has allowed them not to have to choose between eating and taking their medications.
We see it as a way of keeping people out of the emergency room and out of the hospital, which is the most expensive way to take care of people who have a chronic illness, Lamb says. If they are on their medications, one would hope they would remain in good control.
Lamb says the clinic population has increased in Trenton as the economy declined, so plans to expand the prescription assistance program have been placed on hold.
Were having a hard time keeping up with what is happening here, Lamb says. Were busy.
New York-Presbyterian Hospital
New York-Presbyterians Community Health Education and Outreach program also operates a prescription program. The Ambulatory Care Network-Pharmacy Assistance Program began in 2002 with funding from the Health Resource Services and Administration and is supported by the hospital. The program, a part of the hospitals Community Health Outreach Department, helps patients referred from inpatient units and hospital outpatient clinics secure medications through the pharmaceutical companies assistance programs. Nurses can spend time on clinical care instead of trying to figure out how patients will obtain their medications.
We think its a fabulous program, says Miriam Torres, RN, manager of the Community Health Outreach Department at New York-Presbyterian. Unless you have access to medication, you wont have successful management of the chronic illness.
New York-Presbyterian created its own database and does not rely on the Partnership for Prescription Assistance. Since its inception, the program has served more than 2,500 patients in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, filling more than 13,000 prescriptions and saving patients more than $9.3 million.
Where to Refer Patients
Nurses can help their patients receive free or low-cost medications from pharmaceutical companies by contacting the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at www.pparx.org or 888-477-2669. More than 2,500 brand name and generic prescription medicines are available through about 475 participating patient-assistance programs. The partnership has served more than 6 million people.