Preparedness is good patient counseling

Erin Mullen

Dr. Erin Mullen is the Director of the Rx Response program. She is a pharmacist, emergency manager, and disaster responder.

There is a constant struggle that we see in the prevention space: it can be hard to motivate action to prevent adverse consequences rather than reacting to a bad outcome once it does happen. For example, how long has it been since you reviewed the terms of your car insurance policy? Does it really fit your needs now, and does it cover the things you think it does? Another constant struggle is with vaccination – it is estimated that less than half of US adults received an influenza vaccination last flu season, even though loss of productivity is a major cost to business continuity. It seems that we often compartmentalize the messages that we receive; planning for disaster is a separate activity from daily living.

But as both a disaster survivor and pharmacist, I have to disagree with that idea. Counseling our patients for preparedness is mostly just good pharmacy practice – let me give you a couple of examples:

  • Awareness: Patients, particularly those with chronic illnesses, should know what medicines they take (by name and strength) and why they take them. When disaster strikes, a patient may have difficulty making sure that they continue their medication therapy if their regular providers aren’t available. Help your patients be resilient to this issue: use the Rx On the Run wallet card (or other list or chart) to help your patients remember their current medications.
  • Compliance: Every checklist for preparedness suggests that patients have several days supply of critical medicines on hand. When we as pharmacists provide refill reminders and medication synchronization to help patients refill their prescriptions in a timely manner, we are also helping ensure that they have sufficient supplies on hand should a disaster hit. After all, if you fill your medicines every month before they run out, most days you’ll have more than 3 weeks supply on hand.
  • Storage: Proper patient counseling should also include information on how to store medicines properly – not just the common message about storing outside of the bathroom medicine cabinet. This becomes even more urgent in the face of power outages resulting in the loss of refrigeration and air conditioning or heating. Helping patients foresee these issues and plan accordingly (e.g., recommend keeping ice packs in the freezer so they’re ready to use if needed for keeping refrigerated items cold) can help them not just during disasters, but in planning long trips or other circumstances that take them away from home.

Even without going into a more detailed risk/vulnerability analysis for your community, pharmacists can deliver preparedness messages just by counseling patients. These are simple ideas that are easily included in your normal counseling routine. Of course, talking with your patients more specifically about disaster preparedness and planning is always a good idea – but as you can see, it doesn’t even require you to change the subject!


Email with comments, questions or blog ideas.