Pharmacists play role in cholesterol control

01/29/04

The idea of pharmacists as simple drug distributors is archaic, and a new study out of the University of Alberta proves it.

Pharmacists who provided consultation services for a six month period to patients at high risk for cardiovascular diseases were able to reduce their patients' cholesterol levels by an average of 13 per cent, said Dr. Ross Tsuyuki, a professor in the U of A Department of Medicine and the lead author of the study, which has been published in the American Journal of Medicine this month.

"As a rule of thumb, each one per cent reduction in cholesterol reduces the risk of heart disease between two to three times," Tsuyuki said.

In the study, which was completed at 42 pharmacies across Canada, patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease and not at their target cholesterol level received consultations with their pharmacist about their condition. The patients' cholesterol levels were measured and they were advised about proper use and side effects of cholesterol medication, lifestyle choices, and the management of other risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension, and diabetes. In addition, this information was shared with each patient's family physician, and each patient was referred to their family physician as necessary.

"We think the 13 per cent reduction of cholesterol would have been even greater if we continued the study for a longer period," Tsuyuki said.

An average person sees their pharmacist between five and eight times more often than they see their doctor, Tsuyuki said, adding the major difficulty in treating high cholesterol is that it does not show any symptoms and most people are unaware of their own level of risk from it and often do not seek medical care.

"Our study showed that an enhanced pharmacist care program was associated with a reduction in cholesterol levels," Tsuyuki said. "In the context of primary health care reform, programs such as this, where patients have regular consultations with their community pharmacists--working with the patient and the patient's family physician--should be strongly considered, as they are community based, accessible, multidisciplinary, and effective."

Tsuyuki acknowledged the programs would cost money to run, but said he believes they would save money in the long run.

"If you look at the costs of bypass surgery or a balloon angioplasty, for example, you'll see that if we can prevent just a few of those procedures we'll be saving money," he said.

"Pharmacists are well-trained and under used, and with the well-documented shortage of physicians in the country, turning to pharmacists is one way to help alleviate this problem."

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