3 ways pharmacists can help patients navigate mental health and comorbidities

Providing mental healthcare is complex and time-intensive. There’s no one-size-fits-all drug therapy for disease states such as depression and dementia. And the medications prescribed to treat these conditions take weeks – if not months – to begin working.

Implementing the most effective course of treatment for each patient requires a methodical, step-by-step approach to pharmacotherapy. For patients, that journey can feel like slow going. An initial five mg of Lexapro may provide no immediately discernible benefits. And each step up can yield similarly limited results.

Faced with such slow progress, patients often give up on prescribed treatments before they have a chance to work. And so their conditions worsen.

For mental health patients with comorbidities such as COPD and congestive heart failure, the consequences of non-adherence are complex, impacting both mental and physical health outcomes.

In this post, we’ll look at three ways pharmacists can help patients and providers navigate the treatment of mental health and comorbid conditions. The result? Stronger patient-provider relationships, increased medication adherence, and better health outcomes.

1. Identify patients most at-risk of non-adherence

Adherence is directly correlated to health outcomes. When patients fail to properly take their medications, they’re more likely to experience the adverse medical events that lead to illness, (re)hospitalization, and possibly death. That’s why it’s important to identify at-risk patients before intervention becomes critical.

For mental health patients with comorbidities like congestive heart failure, this is doubly true. Fifty percent of patients with major depressive disorders are non-adherent to the medications necessary for their treatment. That creates a vicious cycle. Untreated, depression decreases a patient’s ability to complete life tasks – such as refilling all their medications.

A tech-powered pharmacy solution like RxLive helps mitigate these risks. Using RxLive.AI, providers can track and sort patient data based on individualized determinants – say, patients prescribed both an antidepressant, like Lexapro, and an ACE inhibitor such as Lisinopril.

Empowered with this information, pharmacists can then proactively reach out to the target population to educate them about their care and collaborate with physicians on strategies to ensure patients are proactively reminded to refill their prescriptions.

2. Empower at-home caregivers to compassionately and effectively deliver care

Many at-home caregivers face a common challenge. They want to provide compassionate, effective care for their loved ones – but they’re not trained medical professionals. And no matter the preparation, caring for a loved one presents a unique stress.

Say an adult child is caring for an elderly parent with dementia. That likely represents a reversal of roles in the parent-child relationship. And if the child doesn’t have a full understanding of their parents’ past medical history, it can further complicate the effective delivery of care.

Enter pharmacists. Pharmacists have the knowledge and tools necessary to extend a bridge between a patient’s providers and their caregiver. With telehealth, this connection is only a phone call away. Conversations with pharmacists can help caregivers understand, for example, the reasons for each medication.

Dementia patients suffering from congestive heart failure are likely being treated with more than 2 medications. Antidepressants like Lexapro can help manage the mood of the dementia patient, which sadly often includes combativeness. And drugs such as Seroquel may be used to supplement traditional dementia therapies… more on this later.

The more fully patients – and their caregivers – understand medications, the more likely they are to complete courses of treatment. And the better the patient-provider relationship, the more likely a patient is to remain adherent to their medications, no matter how many therapies they’re prescribed.

3. Educate patients, caregivers, and healthcare teams about efficacy and safety

The power of pharmacists as educators is difficult to overstate. Pharmacists help keep patients up to date about cost-effective options like biologics. And they’re uniquely equipped to help stop the spread of misinformation. Similarly, pharmacists can help patients understand and adhere to a complex drug regimen.

Let’s take another look at Seroquel, for example. Initially developed as an antipsychotic, Seroquel is commonly prescribed off-label as a sedative. For healthcare teams treating dementia patients, Seroquel may be used to improve sleep and reduce agitation but at the risk of serious adverse drug events.

With a comprehensive understanding of Seroquel’s purpose and its side effects, caregivers are better equipped to more effectively care for their loved ones.

A pharmacist can explain the reason for prescribing Seroquel (to help calm a patient’s increasingly erratic moods). And they can explain the risks (Seroquel makes patients drowsy, making it harder for them to balance, and increasing the chances that they’ll fall).

Empowered with this information, caregivers can take simple steps – say, staying with patients after taking their dose. And when it comes time for their next provider visit, better understanding medications means caregivers are well positioned to advocate for changes to a patient’s treatment if side effects have been noted.

Telehealth empowers patients and caregivers in real time

To address the dynamic complexities of mental healthcare, it’s helpful to have a healthcare team as responsive as they are knowledgeable. To power productive connections, RxLive’s telehealth solution integrates directly into your healthcare system’s patient portal.

The result? Fewer adverse drug reactions. More prescriptions refilled when they’re needed. And better, more clearly understood outcomes.Clear, consistent communication empowers providers throughout your network to work at the top of their license. Interested in how RxLive can help your whole network stay in good health? Get in touch.

Kristen Engelen, PharmD
Kristen Engelen, PharmD, is the chief pharmacy officer of RxLive and a certified consultant pharmacist; she has over a decade of experience in retail pharmacy settings. Kristen became an RxLive co-founder because of her passion for geriatric pharmacy, with a focus on the intersection of pharmacy and aging.