Q&A with University Health pharmacists

University Health pharmacists Irene Vargas and Scott Frishman answer common questions and share how your local pharmacist can help you manage your medications.

What are all of the different ways a pharmacist can help a patient?

We ensure that all the prescriptions we receive are the appropriate therapy and fit the patient’s needs. We take time with each patient to review their medication history and work with other providers to ensure they’re receiving the most appropriate therapy.

We also provide vaccinations for COVID-19, hepatitis and the flu. Due to the pandemic, a lot of the pediatric community and elderly community fell behind on their immunization records.

We take the time to set up meetings with our patients, especially our elderly community, to help them understand medication management. They take a lot of medications, and they’re not going to understand all of them. We have one-on one-meetings with them to go through every medication with them.

How do you help patients with payment options?

Many people in the community we serve are not able to afford a copay because they’re on a very fixed income. Their copay can be waived, even if they have private insurance. We call it a financial hardship. University Health is not going to let you go home without your medication.

For patients who use our facilities, doctors and pharmacies, we have a savings program. It’s like GoodRX, but often provides better discounts. When they visit our facilities, we can decrease their copay. If they can’t afford their medications with these discounts, we’ll still give it to them.

For patients who go to offsite doctors, we have a whole acquisition cost savings program. Even though the medication will cost a little bit more because they’re not using our facilities or our physicians, we can still provide that service to them.

What are the most common questions you get from patients and how do you answer them?

“Do I have to take this with food?” There are specific medications that, if taken with food, it decreases the effectiveness of the medication. No question is a dumb question. For example, some medications for patients with cancer have to be taken without food or 30 minutes before food in order for it to be effective.

Patients who take other medications, like herbal medications, ask, “Do these interact with other medications I’m taking?” We go through their list of prescription and oral medications. We have so many pharmacists on hand that we’re able to take the time with each patient and answer those questions.

How do you help a patient manage multiple medications?

We can give our patients pillboxes, and we have different colored ones for people who can’t read or write. We’ll also write in big, bold letters. Some of the medications have to be split in half, so we’ll provide them with a pill cutter. These are all for free.

We’ll say, “These are your morning medications, and the top slots of the pillbox are for the morning. These are for your blood pressure.” If they don’t know how to read or write, we’ll help them identify their medications by their color or shape. We’ll go through their whole pillbox with them.

We have different types of pillboxes, depending on how many different medications a patient is taking. If they have pills they have to cut in half, we provide them a pill cutter and show them how to use it.

The patient may be diabetic and might not know how to use a blood sugar meter, so we walk them through it as well. We also show them videos and then ask them to do it on their own before they leave to make sure they’re doing it correctly because some of them have to take their own insulin as well.

What do I do if I need a specialty medication? 

This will typically start with a conversation with your provider. Depending on the condition, your primary care provider may assist. Otherwise, specialty medications are typically prescribed by your specialist. 

Once you have a prescription or medication order, you have several options. As a patient, you should be given the choice of where you would like to fill the prescription. If University Health is your preferred option, you can call 210-743-3856, option 5, for our Medical Center location, and 210-358-9660, option 5, to speak with a member of the team. 

They will enroll you in our Proactive Patient Monitoring Program and set up a follow-up visit with our pharmacists. These follow-up appointments can be completed in person or over the phone. 

We have a dedicated team of pharmacists and technicians that have been trained in specialty pharmacy that will provide a clinical assessment, ensuring that this medication is the best option for you. 

Once you have the medication in hand, the team will continue to follow-up throughout the year, ensuring your success as our patient. All of this, except the cost of the medication, is provided free of charge as a service to our community. 

What is a specialty pharmacy? 

Specialty pharmacies provide comprehensive, proactive and coordinated care for patients with chronic illnesses and medical conditions. They typically operate in a closed door, mail-order fashion. 

However, University Health specialty pharmacies provide an open door, optional same-day dispensing model – the first of its kind in San Antonio to be accredited.

Why would I need a specialty pharmacy? 

It depends on the patient and what medications they’re taking. Oftentimes, the patient’s insurance provider, or the drug manufacturer will determine if the patient needs to utilize a specialty pharmacy. 

Most of the new medications that are advertised on TV or the internet require a specialty pharmacy. 

If the condition that the patient is trying to treat is complex (and often chronic), they will most likely need to utilize a specialty pharmacy, too. 

For example: The medications to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and psoriasis. I will often see at least five TV commercials throughout the day for a new medication to treat either condition.

What they don’t tell you is those medications will often be limited to certain accredited specialty pharmacies, impacting patient access. Fortunately, University Health has added over 50 new medications to our program with no signs of stopping.

Where can I find a University Health specialty pharmacy? 

We have two accredited specialty pharmacies. One is located at University Hospital, 4502 Medical Dr, across from Chick-fil-A. 

The other location is downtown at our Robert B. Green Campus, 903 W. Martin, down the road from downtown UTSA campus.

How can I transfer to a University Health pharmacy? 

You can call either 210-743-3856, option 5 for our Medical Center location, and 210-358-9660, option 5 for our downtown location. 

Any of our pharmacists can transfer your prescription from your previous pharmacy. If you don’t have any additional refills, we can contact your provider for a new order as well.

Do I need insurance to transfer to a University Health pharmacy? 

No. University Health offers a multitude of financial assistance and medication assistance programs. While specialty pharmacy medications are typically expensive, our patients pay no more than $20 on average. 

We have a dedicated Medication Assistance Program that can help you find free medications, and CareLink for those Bexar County residents that qualify. 

If you received a specialty prescription from another pharmacy and cannot afford it, please reach out. Someone from our team will navigate all of our available options to get you the best price.

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