photo of megan wilsonphoto of jennifer robinsonphoto of catrina schwartzSPOKANE, Wash. – A trio of WSU pharmacy faculty members have received a grant for a study based on the premise that a few well-timed phone calls can make an important difference in patient health.

The group believes pharmacy students who serve as telephone coaches will motivate patients of a Spokane pharmacy to take their medications as scheduled and become more informed. The Community Pharmacy Foundation has awarded $55,403 to Clinical Assistant Professors Megan Willson and Jennifer Robinson and Clinical Associate Professor Catrina Schwartz for the research.

The study follows the example of a College of Pharmacy/WSU Extension research project done last year in Grant and Cowlitz counties. In that case, 10 pharmacy student volunteers called 50 patients with diabetes weekly for eight weeks. They talked with the participants about diabetes management including medications, diet and exercise.

Willson says the diabetes education led to better health for some participants, but the study did not follow subjects long enough to demonstrate the potential impact of telephone coaching. However, it did provide survey responses that demonstrated the students’ contact with participants was helpful, she says.

About 80 percent of people who received the calls reported that the telephone coaching helped them to understand how to better control their diabetes.

The professors hope to enroll 140 patients of Sixth Avenue Pharmacy who take medicine for their cholesterol. The coordinators are recruiting participants this summer. In September, students and pharmacy faculty will do initial cholesterol screenings. Then they’ll randomly split the group in half. Participants in one group will receive the usual education from their pharmacists about their prescriptions, plus they’ll get three coaching calls from specially-trained pharmacy students over a two-month period. Patients in the other group will receive only the standard pharmacist education.

At the end of the two months, the students and pharmacists will conduct a final cholesterol screening. The participants will also be asked to fill out a survey to tell the study coordinators how helpful they found the telephone coaching and whether they wish they could continue with it. The data will be collected and analyzed to see if there were any health benefits.

Megan Willson says the study has two main goals. One is to gather more evidence about the usefulness of telephone coaching for patients who take medication. The second is to provide more clinical experience for pharmacy students.

The study is something new for the Sixth Avenue Pharmacy.

“We’ve provided medication for past studies, but this is the first time we’ve recruited from our patient base and actively participated in a study,” pharmacy manager Jennifer Brumblay-Dailey said. “It’s been really easy recruiting people so far.”

Participants won’t be paid a stipend, but they’ll receive a $25 gift card once they complete the study, as well as two free cholesterol screenings.