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Local pharmacy assists customers navigate healthcare challenges

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By Julie B. Maglio
Hernando Sun

Healthcare is a complicated business with consideration to the ongoing pandemic, an upcoming flu season, and this time of year, many seniors are falling into the annual medicare donut hole. However, one local pharmacy is prepared to help its customers navigate these healthcare challenges.

According to the CDC, laboratory-confirmed flu activity is currently low at this time, yet the agency is not taking any risks.  They maintain, “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses, like flu, this fall and winter is more important than ever.” The CDC is working with manufacturers to ensure that they will have extra flu vaccine available this flu season.  CDC recommends individuals get the flu vaccine annually in September or October.  Currently, 139.4 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed.

Locally, Pine Brook Pharmacy, with four locations throughout the county, offers the flu and pneumonia vaccines along with several other immunizations.  Fortunately for customers who are homebound, they also provide in-home immunizations. Pine Brook pharmacy will  come to your home to administer these shots if you are not able to leave your home. There is a $10 convenience fee for at-home immunizations for those people who are not currently customers of Pine Brook. If someone does not want to pay the convenience fee they can become a customer of Pine Brook and the fee will be waived. 

Many people, when it comes to vaccines and immunizations, have no idea of when they had their last immunization. For example, there are two types of pneumonia vaccine, and there’s a time frame to take the shots. This gets confusing and customers will come in with no knowledge of which one they took and when. The newest shingles vaccine requires a booster shot 6 months after the initial one. That is no problem, Pine Brook has the ability to access the Florida state website for records and obtain that information for you and see what vaccines you need.

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“When the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, we will consider our customers as first priority,” said pharmacist Gautam Thakkar. 

Another important service Pine Brook offers is a 24/7 pharmacist on call. If you have questions at 2 in the morning that can’t wait to be answered, Pine Brook is able to help. When you call the normal pharmacy number after hours you will be directed to a voice messaging system, here you can leave a detailed message and once you hang up, that message will be forwarded to the on-call pharmacist. The on-call pharmacist will call you back to speak to you directly. 

Thakkar recalled a recent customer who used the 24-hour line. He explained that the customer’s physician recently prescribed a new medication and he was instructed to NOT eat dairy while taking the medication. He forgot and ate a cheese quesadilla for dinner. In a panic, he calls the 24/7 pharmacist at 10 p.m. with concerns.

“I was the pharmacist on call and I reassured him that nothing bad was going to happen. Dairy will bind to the drug that he was prescribed and in turn, makes it less effective. So there was no harm done, just reduced effectiveness. Without our 24 hour service, this man would’ve been up all night concerned about his health. But we were able to calm him and provide that peace of mind,” says Thakkar. 

Pine Brook Pharmacy utilizes a unique medication packaging system. They package and separate patients’ medications by day and time.  In a previous interview with Hernando Sun, Thakkar explained that if a customer is not taking the medication at the correct time of day, that could decrease the effectiveness of the drug and the physician may end up prescribing a higher dosage unnecessarily.  Since the medication packages indicate a date and time, the customer knows exactly when to take the medication.  This is an especially helpful service for patients on multiple medications since it can quickly become very complicated to track when to take each medication.

The medication packages will be delivered to your home for free. The cycle for medication lasts for 30 days. If someone has a change in medication within that 30 day period, Pine Brook will reset and package your medications accordingly, if you need it. The packaging is $10 per month regardless of how many prescriptions are being filled.

Before the medications were packaged by a machine, Thakkar used to do these medication packages himself. There were days where he had to do 5 or 6 hundred packages by hand. 
For prescriptions that are not delivered and are picked up, Pine Brook has an automated system to give you a call the morning your prescription is ready. 

Pine Brook also has a program for free diabetic testing supplies with a doctor’s prescription. Under this program, customers can receive 50 free test strips per month. 

“Many people don’t want to spend the money to check their sugar level, so it stays high,” said Thakkar. This is damaging to their health and reduces their lifespan. With the free test strips, customers can track their blood sugar without worrying about how much it costs them.  They will know if they’re eating the wrong foods or not taking their medications properly. 

As 90-95 percent of Pine Brook’s customers are seniors, Thakkar explained some options Pine Brook offers to patients on Medicare who are facing a ‘donut hole’ in medication coverage through medicare.
According to medicare.gov, the ‘donut hole’ is a gap in coverage.

“Most Medicare drug plans have a coverage gap (also called the “donut hole”). This means there’s a temporary limit on what the drug plan will cover for drugs. Not everyone will enter the coverage gap. The coverage gap begins after you and your drug plan have spent a certain amount for covered drugs. Once you and your plan have spent $4,020 on covered drugs in 2020 ($4,130 in 2021), you’re in the coverage gap. This amount may change each year. Also, people with Medicare who get Extra Help paying Part D costs won’t enter the coverage gap.”

Thakkar says around this time of the year, September to December, it’s common for seniors to experience the donut hole. He says customers often can’t afford the full price of medication, especially when they are living on social security. It’s not feasible for them to pay $200 for a single medication so they stop taking it and end up in the hospital.

However, Thakkar advises that most manufacturers are aware of this issue and have programs to defray the cost of the medication.  Pine Brook Pharmacy is happy to assist its customers in applying for these programs.  Thakkar also stated that they can consider less expensive generic medications and will work with the physician to determine if that is a possibility. 

Pine Brook Pharmacy is willing and able to help their customers navigate the various healthcare challenges they may encounter. 
Pharmacist and business owner Gautam Thakkar remarks, “We offer exclusive services that others do not.” 

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