A prescription sheet is shown next to different kinds of pills.
A medication therapy management program can help patients clear up any confusion about their prescriptions. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There was a time when Pat Amar had to take more than two dozen prescription drugs for several medical conditions, including low blood sugar and high blood pressure.

It made for a complex combination that would sometimes cause her to feel dizzy or shaky, and she wasn’t quite sure why.

Had she taken the medication improperly? Had some of the drugs interacted dangerously?

Thanks to her health insurance company’s expansion of a program that provides guidance and insight on all things medication, this 63-year-old Grand Rapids resident wonders about such things no more.

It’s dubbed a medication therapy management program, and it’s designed to help patients get the most benefit from their medication with the least amount of risk.

Amar began using the program when her health insurance company, Priority Health, became the first health insurance provider in Michigan to offer this program to non-Medicare subscribers.

That means companies and individuals can now access the program.

Medication safety

At its core, the program connects patients to pharmacists who can ensure patients are properly using their prescription medicine. The pharmacists can monitor for potential misuse of drugs, such as dangerous combinations or improper dosage.

Priority Health’s medication therapy management program is offered free to its subscribers, who are under no obligation to join. (The company pays pharmacists and doctors to provide the service to its subscribers.)

And, because medication therapy management programs are available throughout the nation, Priority Health is able to offer the service to its subscribers in Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S.

The program is available at community pharmacies and physician office-based pharmacies, as well as at most chain pharmacies such as Meijer, Walgreens, Spartan Stores, Rite Aid and Wal-Mart.

Amar joined the program when Priority Health began offering it to non-Medicare subscribers.

Now when she has a question, she turns to Angela Stropkai, a clinical pharmacy specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group.

A pharmacist of 16 years, Stropkai has been with Spectrum Health for about seven years. She has been involved in Priority Health’s medication therapy management program since 2015.

“It is the most amazing opportunity,” Stropkai said. “I get to sit down with patients, face to face in a doctor’s office, and I go through all of their medications.”

The patients bring in all their medications—prescription drugs and vitamins—so Stropkai can review them and learn more about how they’re taking the drugs, and why. She listens to the patients’ concerns and answers their every question.

Stropkai works in a doctor’s office, which means there’s typically a quick turnaround when she has questions for a patient’s doctor.

Interestingly, the program isn’t reduced to strictly an exchange of information. The frequent one-on-one interactions can often foster lasting relationships.

Amar, for example, said she appreciates Stropkai’s help and consistent availability—but she also feels a bond with the pharmacist.

“I like her smile and I look forward to seeing her when we have our sessions,” Amar said. “We even give each other hugs.”

Most importantly, she appreciates the safety net the service provides.

“I’m glad they have the program, because there are times when I don’t understand something about my prescription,” Amar said.

It’s not unusual for a patient to find a list of medications confounding. This is, of course, what makes the medication therapy management program so valuable.

“Patients are very receptive,” Stropkai said. “They love that extra pair of eyes.”

The program adds a layer of protection, particularly when it involves a patient who uses multiple medications.

“Historically, pharmacists have done a good job of using software tools to check for drug interaction and to make sure patients weren’t taking the wrong medication,” said Erica Clark, director of clinical pharmacy programs for Priority Health. “But instead of just looking at the one prescription at a time, (pharmacists in the medication therapy management program) look robustly at all the medication a patient is taking.”

Medication savings

The program can also save money, said Clark, who oversees Priority Health’s medication therapy management program.

Priority Health has provided a medication therapy management program to Medicare patients for five years. Statistics show the program can save each member about $700 a year.

“Ninety percent of that savings is in services,” Clark said. “Patients that are part of the program are less likely to get admitted to the hospital, which saves money.”

Statistics show such a program is needed.

According to the National Institutes of Medicine, about 1.5 million people are harmed each year as a result of mistakes or problems associated with medication, such as using the wrong drug, taking the wrong dosage, or having a bad reaction to a drug.

Priority Health is investing about $3 million to expand its medication therapy management program—and it could prove to be a brilliant investment.

For every patient the medication therapy management program engages, two drug-related issues are resolved, according to Priority Health. For every dollar that Priority Health invests in the program, it saves about $4 in medical costs.

Patients are thankful—for the service and the savings.

“Some have actually brought me food to thank me,” Stropkai said. “I’ve received items, from homemade caramel corn to homemade brownies.”