Faculty and students from the USC School of Pharmacy and the USC School of Social Work held the first annual Conference on Medication Use & Society on April 3.
The conference aimed to provide students from the two schools with an opportunity to better understand the role of each of their professions on the health care team, as well as ways and points in care where they may improve the lives of patients.
“Our goal was to create interdisciplinary work between the students within USC and to find common ground on how our professions work,” said Tadeh Vartanian, a PharmD candidate who acted as student organizer on behalf of the School of Pharmacy. “The event exposed pharmacy students to other health care professionals and prepared us to eventually work in larger hospital and community settings.”
The conference, which was held on the University Park campus, was attended by 38 pharmacy students, 20 social work students and 10 social work professors. It covered topics such as medication access in society, the overuse and underuse of some medications, and how social work and pharmacy sometimes have similar challenges in finding patients the right care following discharge.
The event began with a welcome from School of Social Work vice dean R. Paul Maiden, followed by remarks from Tenie Khachikian, the social work student who co-organized the event.
“Although social work and pharmacy are different disciplines, there are similarities, as we are both working to improve the lives of our clients,” Khachikian said.
Bruce Jansson, Driscoll/Clevenger Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Work, spoke about advocacy in health care. He discussed broad problem areas in the health care system, including violation of ethical rights of patients, lack of quality care and lack of cultural competency. He also looked at the lack of preventive care and insufficient attention to mental distress of patients, leading to insufficient follow-up for many patients.
Jansson also reviewed the insular structure of care with physician services often not linked to community, creating discharge problems when patients make transitions from hospital to home or nursing home.
He suggested that these problems could be addressed through appropriate advocacy.
“First, we must determine if and why someone needs case advocacy, then implement a case-advocacy strategy, assess advocacy interventions and then progress to policy advocacy through various influence resources,” he explained.
Vartanian presented an overview of what pharmacists do before introducing Kathleen A. Johnson, holder of the William A. and Josephine A. Heeres Chair in Community Pharmacy, who spoke on behalf of the School of Pharmacy. Johnson also is vice dean for clinical affairs and outcome sciences at the school.
Johnson discussed the factors that lead to hikes in prescription spending, including increased prescribing and changes in how drugs are financed. She also talked about drug therapy problems and their costs to U.S. society, both financially and in terms of patient health.
“Three hundred billion dollars is spent on prescription drugs annually, and $176 billion is spent on drug-related problems, including misuse,” she said. “In addition, 9 million geriatric patients per year suffer from adverse drug events.”
Johnson explained that transition of care is a crucial point in the system when pharmacists and social workers need to work together for the best patient outcomes.
“Social workers are pivotal when patients leave the hospital or move to a nursing home, or any kind of transition, and they can alert the pharmacist to medication issues that need to be addressed,” she said.
The presentations were followed by small group discussions.
“This event places social work as another piece of the puzzle in today’s large health care system, which is continually growing,” Vartanian said.