Anita Battaglia is maximizing her retirement years. She fills her days at the Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers with exercise and balance classes, volunteer work at the local art library and tending to her outdoor flower garden. Along with her husband, Robert, they moved to Shell Point in 2018 and enjoy the tropical setting and many activities available to this community of 2,600 situated along the Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida.
“There is beautiful landscaping, wonderful people, good health care and so much to do, you can’t possibly do it all,” Battaglia said. “It’s everything you can ask for in a retirement community.”
The retired 79-year-old schoolteacher from Chicago maintains her good health by regularly exercising, watching her diet and following the advice of her health care team — including pharmacist Brad Phillips, Pharm.D., BCACP, a clinical assistant professor from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.
“Brad is so knowledgeable and talking to him makes me so much more aware of my diet and health,” Battaglia said. “It’s been a wonderful experience working with him because he can answer all my questions.”
For more than two decades, Battaglia has been taking the blood-thinning medication warfarin to manage an irregular heart rhythm and prevent blood clots. While warfarin reduces the risk of these blood clots, it requires constant management, and she regularly undergoes blood tests to make sure the medication is working appropriately to keep her safe. Once a month she meets with Phillips to review lab results, discuss changes in diet and catch up on life.
While the pair have only known each other for seven months, they have formed a unique friendship and will engage in meaningful conversation during each visit — talking about Phillips’ infant daughter, Chloe, and Battaglia’s flower garden, among other topics.
“As an outpatient pharmacist, it’s in our nature to get to know our patients and ask a lot of questions,” Phillips said. “Mrs. Battaglia is so engaged in her health, and we have great conversations around ensuring she maintains a happy, healthy and long life. I feel blessed to be a pharmacist and be in a position to have those conversations with her.”
FACE TIME WITH THE PHARMACIST
Phillips has become Battaglia’s trusted health advisor, despite never meeting physically face-to-face. Their conversations and consultations take place via telehealth, with Phillips sitting in front of a computer screen in Orlando, and Battaglia doing the same in Fort Myers. A state-of-the-art videoconferencing system helps to overcome the 200 miles of separation.
“It’s like he is right there in the room with me,” Battaglia said. “Sometimes we get lost in conversation, and I forget he is three hours away.”
Phillips is one of four faculty from the UF College of Pharmacy’s Orlando campus who are participating in a new telehealth anticoagulation consultation service between the college and Shell Point. Three mornings a week, a UF clinical pharmacist provides medication consultations with Shell Point residents via videoconferencing. The pharmacists have access to a patient’s medical records and can record notes in real-time. They also work closely with the four physicians and five nurse practitioners who provide on-site care at the retirement community.
“To have real-time communication with the provider allows us to be an extension of the health care team and helps determine the best therapeutic plan for the patient,” Phillips said. “When patients realize what we [pharmacists] can contribute via telehealth, they become receptive to the service and appreciate the individualized care they receive.”
Since anticoagulation medications require careful and constant management, Phillips and the team of UF College of Pharmacy pharmacists have immediately demonstrated the value they bring to Shell Point’s health care offerings, and in doing so, built a level of trust through telehealth.
INNOVATION AND NEW IDEAS
The UF College of Pharmacy began exploring new ways to deliver pharmaceutical services through telehealth after the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in spring 2020. With health care clinics shuttered and many people staying home early in the pandemic, videoconferencing became a lifeline between pharmacists and their patients. College leadership saw an opportunity to test the telehealth pharmacy idea with Shell Point.
“To have a pharmacist embedded with a medical team in a retirement community is an innovative approach to health care,” said John Gums, Pharm.D., FCCP, associate dean for clinical and administrative affairs and a professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research in the UF College of Pharmacy. “If the concept proves successful, we can look at providing similar services to other patient populations in the state.”
The anticoagulation clinic first launched in September 2021, and the college is adding a polypharmacy service in summer 2022. The polypharmacy service will help patients taking multiple medications to reduce their side effects, costs and likelihood of a drug-induced emergency room or hospital admission.
“Pharmacists look at health care through a different lens than our traditional providers and having this extra layer of service makes our patients healthier and improves clinical outcomes,” said Christy Skinner, vice president of health care at the Shell Point Retirement Community.”
About 40 Shell Point residents receive pharmacy consultations for their blood-thinning medications, and many more patients will seek care once the polypharmacy service begins. As the clinical services are poised to expand, residents like Anita Battaglia are grateful for the conversations and medical support UF pharmacists are providing from afar.
“Every morning I wake up and say ‘thank goodness I’m here,’” Battaglia said. “Shell Point is such a wonderful community, and I’m grateful that Brad is my pharmacist to keep me healthy, so I can enjoy life to the fullest.”