Problems with prescriptions during Houston’s winter storm

Many patients had to go without their important prescription medications during our recent winter storm.

Dr. Liza Leal, the Chief Medical Officer of Meridian Health Institute, wants our community to act now to prevent this from ever happening again during a time of crisis.

It was hard enough for many people to deal with below freezing temperatures and trying to keep themselves and their family safe in the Houston area, but Dr. Leal, who’s known as "Your Everyday Health Hacker", says there was another level of stress for many people, including her own patients.

"One of the most difficult things was that we would send out the medications. However, a lot of them would bounce back because that pharmacy was under with no power, they were closed. So a lot of things were happening where patients were not receiving those medications," explains Dr. Leal.

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Technology has come a long way with digital medicine, but Dr. Leal says there has got to be a way to override the system, when the system's down. She and her staff had to rely on text messages and social media to communicate with patients during the storm, but once pharmacies did open their doors, she says it was still a major struggle for patients to get what they needed.

"We want to be able to call the pharmacy. There’s a certain group of medications (Schedule II medications) we should be able to write with a prescription so that we can drop it off in the pharmacy. I know that our team had to do that during Hurricane Harvey, so that in any type of emergency we want to be able to do that and also to have pharmacies that work as a team to where we can transfer medications," says Dr. Leal.

Dr. Leal says many pharmacies refused to tweak their system, using e-scripts, during the winter storm crisis.

"We use a special fob that gives us a unique number for every prescription that we send.  So without this fob that physician is not able to send anything, if the pharmacy is closed. And they're EPCS (EPCS stands for an electronic prescription that is specific for scheduled medications.) If that part is down on their end, they cannot receive the medication," says Dr. Leal.

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The strict rules are in place for a reason, to make sure that the right prescriptions get into the right hands. However, Dr. Leal wants to make sure a back-up plan gets patients their medication, so she's pushing an awareness campaign to make sure patients don't go without them again.

"One of the things that a lot of physicians and pharmacies may not be aware of is that if we're under a disaster, which I would call this past winter storm definitely one of them, like what we went through in Harvey with FEMA, is that we need to really have an understanding and work together as a community to make sure everyone is taken care of. Because here you are, you're in your home, you have no water, you don't have cell service and you don't have electricity and now you're about down to one or two days of your medication, that can be overwhelming. I mean, there was even dialysis patients that didn't have water and facilities. So, this was something that our community together we need to get together, reach out and see how we can be better prepared, if this was to happen again," states Dr. Leal.

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She goes on to encourage us to each do our part to help make a difference.

"One of the things I encourage is reach out. If the pharmacy is not going to honor that this is an emergency situation where technology is down, then see if you can change to a different pharmacy. Number two is write to your legislator and share with them that an education needs to go out there for physicians, in addition to pharmacies and health care professionals, so that they're aware of this is not a ‘no go’, this is a ‘we got to work around’," says Dr. Leal.

For more information, http://www.meridianmedicaldental.com and you can also found Dr. Liza on social media and YouTube: @everydayhealthhacker