2006: Alaska Native Medical Center, Anchorage, AK

  Perhaps the most exotic location to be named an awardee was Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC), which was selected because of its innovative telepharmacy solution to improve the quality of pharmaceutical care being delivered to the remote residents of the area.

ANMC’s Southcentral Foundation Telepharmacy Program sought to improve pharmaceutical services to its patient population of more than 36,000, spread out over a nearly 2,000-mile area with limited transportation options. Prior to 2003, medical services were provided by community health aides, with physicians and pharmacists based in Anchorage making periodic field visits and serving as consultants via telephone. Chronic medications were filled through the Southcentral Foundation’s Village Pharmacy division and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, but acute medications were distributed by non-pharmacy personnel. There was no pharmacist oversight of the more than 18,000 prescriptions being processed per year.

ANMC’s multidisciplinary team, led by Capt. (USPHS) Doug Herring, R.Ph. (ret.), determined that a telepharmacy solution was best-suited for the challenges presented by distance, weather and lack of available pharmacy professionals. 
The telepharmacy application allows pharmacists to be integral members of the healthcare team in real-time to the participating clinics. Prescriptions are prospectively reviewed before medications are released. Patients are currently consulted on safe and effective medication use telephonically. In its 6 years of operation, the Telepharmacy Program has made it possible to bring all medication procurement, storage and accountability into compliance with the standards of practice; has improved access to needed medications; and has allowed ANMC to record prescribing trends, collect data that was used to further improve the medication-use safety initiative, and to reconcile patient medications across the continuum of care. The number of prescriptions per month increased from less than 1,000 to more than 1,600. Now, pharmacists are able to have greater influence over prescribing habits, encourage medication adherence and help make medications more cost effective for their patients.

The award brought ANMC and its telepharmacy program a lot of welcome attention. “We held many celebrations around this award,” says Herring. “The award made our Tribal partners realize how unique this approach to providing pharmaceutical care really is and has made it easier for us to expand the program to other villages. We have been contacted by several other Indian Health Service sites as well as by the military and several other countries. We were also featured in several publications, including Drug Topics and Pharmacy Practice News.” ANMC was also given the GlaxoSmithKline 2007 Circle of Excellence Award, which salutes excellence in patient care in the U.S. Federal Health Care System.

Since receiving the Award for Excellence in Medication-Use Safety, ANMC’s unique program has continued to grow. “We have used the award money to improve the technology at our hub site,” says Herring. “We conducted a pilot program to improve video communications between the hub and outlying clinics. Some of the sites were particularly challenging – getting a 1,000-pound piece of equipment delivered takes real planning!”

“As of Spring 2009, the ANMC Telepharmacy Program is operational at 22 Alaskan villages, with an additional 8 sites awaiting installation,” says Judy Rose, Pharm.D., who succeeded Herring at ANMC.

Watch a video highlighting the 2006 winner and finalists.