The VOICE of UPMC Shadyside Winter 2021–2022

Hospital Pharmacists: Where Aren’t They?

People are often surprised to discover the many parts pharmacists
play in today’s hospital, says Brian Tuttle, PharmD

Surprise. Brian Tuttle, PharmD, says that is often the reaction he gets when he talks about the many ways pharmacists help patients and staff at UPMC Shadyside.

“Pharmacists can be found just about everywhere throughout the hospital,” says Dr. Tuttle, who directs a Pharmacy Operations team of 125 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and interns. “Our primary responsibility is to work collaboratively with the medical personnel and with patients and their families to ensure that their drug therapy is appropriate, safe, effective, and given in a timely and accurate manner.

“But as vital as all that is, it’s really a small part of what hospital pharmacists do,” Dr. Tuttle comments.

“We have pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in the central pharmacy in Posner Tower, ensuring that every inpatient prescription is filled accurately. We have pharmacists in the emergency department and in the operating room. We have pharmacists based on most of the nursing units, helping take patients’ medication histories, reconciling their home meds with what they are ordered in the hospital, making sure they’re getting the right dose and that we’re not overlooking anything. We have a whole pharmacy satellite on the oncology floor.

“I love the variety of my work. It keeps me really busy and on my toes.”
- Michele Hebda, PharmD, BCPS

“Name an area, and there’s a pharmacist who is responsible for helping the people who work in that area.”

Today’s hospital pharmacists are often specialists in such practice areas as oncology, critical care, infectious diseases, and perioperative and emergency medicine. For instance, Michele F. Hebda, PharmD, BCPS, is a clinical pharmacist specializing in family medicine. Her first role is collaborating with the inpatient family medicine team to provide outstanding care for patients of the UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center while they are in the hospital.

“Medication therapy requires so many decisions,” says Dr. Hebda. “Is this the appropriate medication selection for what is going on with the patient? Does it interact with any other medications the patient is taking? Does the patient have allergies? Is the medication dosed appropriately for the patient’s kidney function? Does the patient have a clear understanding about how to take their medications? Is the patient going to be able to afford the medication? Do they have insurance? If not, what could be an alternative therapy?

“Furthermore, when a patient is ready to leave the hospital, I encourage patient medication education and use of our UPMC Rx Express™ retail pharmacy program. This service delivers the patient’s medications to their bedside before discharge so that they don’t have to make another stop at the pharmacy,” says Dr. Hebda.

“I like to think that we’re really putting a nice big bow on the package of their discharge.”

Dr. Hebda is also an educator. She directs a postgraduate pharmacy residency, training pharmacists for an array of practice and educational settings. In addition, she is faculty for the Family Medicine Residency, teaching about pharmacy-related content and issues.

“I love the variety of my work. It keeps me really busy and on my toes,” laughs the former professional ballet dancer.

Dr. Tuttle, who started at Shadyside in 1984 as a pharmacy intern, points out that with over 20,000 FDA-approved prescription drug products available today — and more approved every month — pharmacists spend a lot of time learning about new pharmaceuticals and sharing that information with patients, staff, and students. Rarely has their expertise been more on the front lines than during the COVID pandemic.

When UPMC Shadyside admitted its first COVID patient in March 2020, clinical infectious disease pharmacists jumped in to help review and make decisions about the best treatment based on the most recent and accurate evidence — for a new disease about which very little was known.

As soon as the COVID vaccines were released in December 2020, pharmacists helped set up vaccination clinics and administer shots to staff, even volunteering to help before or after their own shifts or when they had a day off.

“As pharmacists, we thought, ‘Hey, we can help get rid of this pandemic by vaccinating all of these folks,’ ” says Dr. Hebda. “Countless individuals in the pharmacy department stepped up and volunteered to work extra hours and shifts to help in this effort. In particular, I know that Brian Tuttle would be there at six in the morning and not leave until eight or nine at night. He was an integral part of making the vaccine clinics run seamlessly.”

“Many people sacrificed their free time to ensure the success of the vaccine clinics because they really believed in the importance of what we were doing,” Dr. Tuttle adds.

Pharmacists continue to offer COVID shots to any Shadyside patient who wants one. And, with monoclonal antibody therapy shown to significantly improve the outcomes of patients who have contracted COVID, pharmacists are responsible for preparing this therapy and making sure it is administered to eligible patients.

Now nearing completion is a new main pharmacy, part of a $25 million, multiyear, multi-phased construction project. “This will almost triple the size of our space,” says Dr. Tuttle.

“We’re very, very excited and extremely appreciative of what’s being invested in us. Practitioners place high expectations on our department for patient care. I feel very blessed to be in a position to help give our pharmacists the tools and the resources to meet those expectations.”