Diabetes is a serious – and unfortunately, an increasingly common – disease. Today approximately 13% of the adult population in Hawaii has diabetes, and with 50% of the state’s population either diabetic or pre-diabetic, that number is expected to grow in the coming years. More worryingly, many Type 2 diabetics go undiagnosed, or don’t receive proper medical care – leading to other chronic and life-threatening conditions such as cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, neuropathy, blindness, and even amputations.

Often, these conditions go undertreated because we overlook one of our most useful and accessible resources for managing and preventing chronic health conditions – our local pharmacists. Pharmacists are well-equipped to identify risk factors, provide counseling, and advise on appropriate treatment options. A recent study published in the Journey of Diabetes Science and Technology showed that pharmacists play very significant roles in chronic disease management, and that people who had regular access to a pharmacist saw substantial improvements in their HbA1c levels and had fewer sick days.1

At ‘Ekahi Wellness, participants have access to clinical pharmacists from our partners at Times Pharmacy. We sat down with Patrick Uyemoto and Patricia Lee to speak with them about the important role they play in the health and wellness journeys of participants in the ‘Ekahi Wellness program.

S: What should patients expect when they meet with a pharmacist for the first time? 

P: Many patients aren’t enthusiastic about meeting with a pharmacist because they are worried we’ll add on medication, but that’s not necessarily true! We primarily look at four things: which medications are recommended for your diabetes, how well your current medications work, the side effects of your medications, and your adherence to your medications.

S: Do you often recommend different medications from the ones prescribed by a primary care physician?

P: Physicians have a limited amount of time to go over medications with their patients. Often we’ll come across patients that aren’t taking their prescribed medication – either because they don’t understand what the medication does, or perhaps it’s the wrong medicine for their lifestyle. We have the time to review each medication and the supplements with participants at ‘Ekahi Wellness and help them understand what each medication does and the benefits of the medications. We can then suggest adjustments in their medication to improve adherence or reduce side effects. The primary care physician and the ‘Ekahi Wellness nurse practitioners can then make those adjustments. 

S: Do all medications come with side effects?

P: Yes, all medications can come with side effects, but Pharmacists are good at counter-acting those side effects by giving recommendations on how and when you should take your medicine. Different people can also experience side effects differently, and if a certain side effect is affecting adherence, we may be able to suggest an alternative medication.

S: Can patients reduce their medication by making lifestyle changes such as the ones we teach at ‘Ekahi?

P: In many cases lifestyle changes can help participants to reduce the medications they are taking. Even with comprehensive lifestyle changes, the right medication still plays an important role in getting biometric numbers into the ‘normal’ range. The most important thing for us is to prevent long-term complications of chronic conditions, so managing medications along with enabling long-term lifestyle changes is very important for us and our participants.

S: What are some of the other concerns participants experience when it comes to medication?

 Often participants will express concern that they’re taking medication too frequently – and usually we can work together to find a longer-acting medication that they’re able to stick to. Price can be a concern too – but we know of several solutions for cost savings including coupons, generic medications, less expensive options for similar medications, and more.

S: What advice do you have for people who are dealing with chronic conditions such as diabetes, or have questions about medications they may be taking?

Talk to your pharmacist at your local pharmacy where you pick up your medication! They’ll have tons of helpful advice, and can provide insight into things such as side effects, benefits, as well as how to take your medication properly. If you are dealing with side effects, schedule an appointment with your physician – it’s better than dropping your medication and risking complications down the line.

TIMES Pharmacy has over 12 locations on O’ahu, and provides patient-centered care services for you and your family. Patrick Uyemoto is a Clinical Pharmacy Manager, and Patricia Lee is a Pharmacist, at TIMES Pharmacy. Patrick and Patricia are also pharmacists at ‘Ekahi Wellness, where they’ve helped many patients start their wellness journey!

1. Pharmacists’ Role in Improving Diabetes Medication Management, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769842/