How One VHAN Pharmacist Used a Patient’s Love for Motorcycles to Rev Up His Medication Adherence

Some health care providers have a special ability to connect with a patient’s interests and help them better manage their health. VHAN Clinical Pharmacist Lyndi Tarr knows how important it is to speak a patient’s language and relate to them as an individual. Recently, Tarr put this truth into practice when she veered off the usual path to help a patient who was struggling with medication adherence following a lengthy hospitalization.

Part of Tarr’s job as a member of VHAN’s Care Management team is to help patients understand how to take their medications correctly after a hospitalization or serious health event. When one of her patients was discharged following a heart failure hospitalization and open-heart surgery, he came home with multiple medications.

“He was really struggling with adherence,” Tarr recalls.

In their first interaction, Tarr identified a financial barrier that was making adherence difficult. Addressing that was the easy part. After asking more questions, she uncovered other challenges that were holding him back from his medication regimen.

“He didn’t want to feel like he was a sick person who had to take a bunch of pills, and he was concerned he was being overmedicated,” she explained. “I needed to educate him that each of his medications was appropriate and had a specific job to do.”

Tarr realized it was important to help the 67-year-old patient shift his mindset, so he didn’t believe that he was an unhealthy person just because he was taking multiple medications. The patient lived alone in a rural part of Tennessee, and his heart condition not only caused him to retire from his truck driving job, but also to stop pursuing his passions.

In Tarr’s conversations with the patient, she discovered he loved riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle and working on automobile engines. Because of his heart condition, he hadn’t been able to do either in a while. As Tarr prepared to send the patient educational materials about his medications, she sensed the usual strategy wouldn’t work. Having more papers to read would only leave him feeling overwhelmed.

Instead, she took a creative approach: She designed a custom heart failure management guide in the shape of a car that related each of his medications to a key function performed within a car engine. She mailed the guide in a pill box to his home. The special guide created a breakthrough with the patient.

“He’s a very animated character, and when he received the packet, he kept saying how awesome I was for doing this for him,” Tarr said. “I had a hard time accepting the praise, because I felt like I was just doing my job.”

But this wasn’t a case of Lyndi just “doing her job.” To boost the patient’s adherence, she had to listen well, tap into his passions and then communicate in a way that would speak directly to him. Her creative solution required a lot of online research, hours of conversations with those who understood the mechanics of an engine better than she did and then time to produce the guide.

Though the patient has not yet returned to riding his Harley or working on engines in the garage, Lyndi’s extra efforts did get him back on the road to recovery. His adherence has improved, he’s filling all his prescriptions on time and he’s more receptive to coaching. While he’s still struggling to accept being on multiple medications, Lyndi continues to help him focus on his goals—including getting back on his bike for a long-awaited ride.

To hear more about how Lyndi meets patients where they are, listen to her interview on the miniVHAN podcast episode “The Vital Contributions of Pharmacists to Team-Based Care.” VHAN members can refer patients to the network’s Care Management team by filling out this form.

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