A prescription for better living



At a meeting of the Healthy Heart Club in a classroom inside Barney's Pharmacy, the South American grain, is being pushed as a way to help lower cholesterol, rather than relying on the prescriptions that line nearby walls.

"You can basically do with it anything you can do with rice," said Clark Lee, a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy who is doing a rotation at the pharmacy and serving as a guest speaker for the class.

Independent drugstores such as Barney's are latching onto wellness programs as a way of distinguishing themselves from massive chain stores and creating a new relationship with customers, said David Pope, a pharmacist at Barney's and a force behind the programs.

"We want to do more than fill prescriptions," he said. "We want to partner with our patients to improve their health."

As he helps lead the class, held every third Wednesday at the pharmacy, Pope says, "Yes, ma'am" a lot -- the students are almost all older women who like to talk to him during class.

They gasp when Karen Arnett tells them she used to weigh 416 pounds. In 1994, she was hospitalized because she was in danger of a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot to the lungs.

"It really scared me," she said.

Arnett began a faith-based weight-loss program, began watching her portion sizes, stopped eating in front of the television and began exercising. Over two years, she lost about 240 pounds.

"This dress was snug on me," she said, pulling a billowy size 58 dress out of a bag, prompting giggles from the class. "You can do it. If I can do it, anyone can do it."

The key is not to go on a diet that can't be sustained, Arnett said.

"What I do I can do for the rest of my life," she said.

"There are a lot of dangerous fad diets out there," Pope said. "The key to weight loss and healthy weight loss is exactly what Miss Karen did, and that is portion control and not cutting out one particular food. It's really a total transformation of what you are eating on a daily basis."

Annette Landen said the 80 pounds she has lost did wonders for her.

"The weight I had lost, I found out it helps my back," said Landen, who had nine back surgeries. "I don't have problems with my back. It was the weight I was carrying, but people don't believe that."

Barney's is pushing the wellness classes -- a large diabetes class also meets every month -- to do more than improve the health of its patients, Pope said.

"We know if we can jump into their lives and affect them that they are going to become a loyal customer," he said.

The programs allow the pharmacy to carve out a niche for itself "as the place to go if I need to lose weight, improve my blood pressure, lower my cholesterol or manage my diabetes," Pope said.

Many independent pharmacies are choosing to follow that lead, said Kevin Schweers, a spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents more than 23,000 independent pharmacies and chains.

"This is a growing trend across the industry, attacking conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, weight loss; even smoking cessation and asthma are some of the newer areas," he said.

Many of those diseases have increased over the past several years, creating a growing demand when there is a shortage of primary-care providers, which community pharmacists can help fill, Schweers said.

"They are the most accessible health care provider," he said. "There is a growing acceptance and recognition of the expanding role of the pharmacists as a vital resource to meet primary-care needs."

Schweers noted that the shortage of primary-care providers is expected to get worse if health care reform efforts increase the number of people insured and seeking care.

Reimbursement is beginning to follow, with Medicare and TRICARE now expanding coverage for immunizations to pharmacies, Schweers said.

Pharmacists increasingly recognize they should do more than hand out medication, Lee said. As he tells his class five ways to lower cholesterol, such as exercise, diet and quitting smoking, the last suggestion is medication.

"All of these other things you can do on your own or with a support group, but they are basic choices that you make in how to lead your life," he says.

Lee enjoys teaching.

"I think education is the key," he said. "That we can actually sit down and answer questions and give them the tools to help themselves I think is a great thing."

The students enjoy it, too. Elisabeth Grissom, 72, describes the class as "very awesome" and is enjoying the benefits of the exercises they do.

"My legs were hurting," she said. "My legs feel good now. It is a good thing for older people."

National test program

The Healthy Heart Club is just one of the wellness classes being spearheaded by pharmacist David Pope and Barney's Pharmacy. The program, working with Cardinal Health, is being tested at 30 pharmacies across the country, Pope said. Information is being sent to 450 U.S. pharmacies and some as far away as Singapore, he said.

The Healthy Heart Club meets the third Wednesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. at Barney's, 2604 Peach Orchard Road. There is also a Web site to keep up with goals and more information is available at healthyheartclub.com

Barney's also has a popular diabetes program on the fourth Wednesday of every month.