Alaska Pharmacy Demonstration Project expands patients' access to prescription drugs in remote areas

Washington 04 August 2003Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has granted his approval for an innovative demonstration project that will make prescription medications more accessible to health centre patients in two isolated areas of Alaska through the use of remote drug dispensers.


"This project will bring needed medication to two remote, previously underserved Alaska communities", Secretary Thompson stated. "Residents there will now be able to obtain the low-cost prescriptions they need to get better or remain healthy. It shows how we can improve health care in even the most isolated communities using telemedicine."

In the demonstration project, the Southcentral Foundation at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage will network with clinics in Whittier and Sand Point to dispense medications to Native and non-Native patients within the Indian Health Service's Anchorage Service Unit.

Health care providers at the Whittier and Sand Point clinics will fax prescriptions to the central Alaska Native Medical Center pharmacy. A pharmacist at the central facility receives the prescription and sends a command via computer link to a locked machine in a secure area of the network clinics, which dispenses the medication into a container. A technician picks up the container, attaches a label and delivers it to the waiting patient.

"Access to health care is not just about being able to see a health care provider, it also includes the ancillary services that help patients stay healthy or get better", stated Elizabeth M. Duke, Ph.D., administrator of HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. "Innovative projects like this one have the potential to extend pharmacy services to Americans in thousands of isolated and underserved communities across the country."

Whittier is located on Prince William Sound, approximately 60 miles from Anchorage, and is accessible through a two and a half mile, one lane tunnel that is shared with the railroad. Sand Point is located on Popof Island, off the Alaska Peninsula, about 570 air miles from Anchorage.

The demonstration project is part of a two-year-old HHS initiative to help certain organisations find creative ways to reduce administrative costs and make buying prescription drugs easier for patients. Demonstrations have been approved in five other states including Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York and Washington.

To participate, organisations must be eligible for the drug pricing programme established under Section 340B of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992. The programme requires drug manufacturers to sell drugs to specified safety-net health care providers at a discount averaging from 25 percent to 40 percent.

Leslie Versweyveld

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