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Delivering the Best Care: Why a Veteran Pharmacist Chose to Join the Alto Team

Jaime Tolbert is a Patient Care Pharmacist based out of Alto’s Denver office. Here she shares what drew her to Alto and how the company is fulfilling its mission to be a better pharmacy.

Why I Chose Alto

Prior to Alto, I worked in retail pharmacy for 13 years. My patients were the best part of my practice and helping them live healthier and happier lives was very fulfilling. When our company was bought out by CVS, there was a shift from caring about people and their health to a very task based environment. Spending the majority of my day on administrative work, being timed to finish each task, and not having time to really engage with my patients was devastating to me as a health care professional, and my work became less meaningful. One of my former colleagues had taken a position at Alto and shared how much she loved the company and its values. She offered to introduce me around and show me first hand what it was like to work here. I found that Alto puts their patients above all, and really cares about both the people they serve, and their employees. They are open to new ideas and changes, and really listen when you have thoughts and ideas about how to better serve our community or improve processes. 

Coming to Alto meant leaving behind my “family” of patients whom I loved and had worked with for years. Although this was a difficult decision, it is one I would make again in a heartbeat. This company is making a real change in pharmacy and in healthcare. After 6 months, I can honestly say I love to come to work, and I am so thankful every day for the opportunity to be part of something that is changing the face of healthcare. (And, as Alto expands our services in Denver, I am hopeful to bring many of those wonderful people to our company and offer them the personalized care they deserve.)

My Role as a Patient Care Pharmacist

Working for Alto has brought me back to the reason that I became a pharmacist…to help people and to make a difference. My primary role is to focus on our patients- making sure they understand their medications, have a resource for information to answer all of their questions, and to give them the care that they deserve while keeping them safe from drug interactions or other medical issues. 

As patient care pharmacists, we are problem solvers, detectives, drug information resources, and caring providers of health and wellness to our patients. Regardless of what we do, we want to make sure we are acting in the best interest of the patient. There are instances in which people call in late at night with medication issues such as: their fertility medication has not been stored correctly and they need their injection right away, or their injection did not go as expected and they don’t know how to proceed. In these moments, we have to do some detective work and figure out if the drug is OK to use or not, or make judgement calls on the best course of action for these patients. It can be difficult to remain calm when patients are panicked or confused, but it’s our job to be a voice of reason, a sense of calm in the storm for the patient.

What Makes the Alto Model Different

In the 13 years I spent in retail pharmacy, I wasn’t able to go nearly as in-depth with patient care as I do at Alto. In the retail setting, you perform all aspects of the job from start to finish mostly on your own, often within a strict time limit. At Alto, the company has separated the pharmacist role into two teams: a production team and a patient care team. The production pharmacists get to focus solely on medication preparation and inventory management while the patient care pharmacists can focus on patient consultations and clinical recommendations.

We definitely still try to work efficiently, but we have the luxury to take a 30-45 minute phone call to consult our patients and comfort them, if necessary. Some of the medications that we administer, like our fertility meds, can be really overwhelming. We have the benefit of taking time to walk patients through tough moments like their first injection, which is especially helpful on evenings and weekends when their doctor isn’t available.

Unlike the retail setting, all of Alto’s patient care interactions are done through phone calls, text messages, or secure message via our app. This model presents a lot of benefits including more privacy for the patient/pharmacist conversation.  Another benefit is the ability to reference those dialogues with the pharmacy in the event, for example, the patient forgets how the pharmacist advised to take the medication. The model also forces our team to really focus on every aspect of our messaging. We work hard to tailor both how we speak to patients and how we draft messages to ensure our patients feel a strong sense of empathy and can understand their instructions clearly. Our team also shares one voice. If a patient speaks with me about their defective medication on Tuesday, and that patient is then put in touch with one of my colleagues the following Wednesday, they will receive the same quality care and same customer service, and my colleague will have all of their most current information in detailed notes. 

Learning and Growing

Another unique factor about Alto is the team dynamic. There are 20 patient care pharmacists between the Denver and San Francisco offices. Working alongside other pharmacists every day, I’ve been able to learn so much about pharmacy that I didn’t know before. In a retail setting you're the lone individual making decisions and calls based on your interpretation of a situation.  Now, I have this entire team with varying perspectives to bounce ideas off of or go to for advice if something comes up that I have never dealt with before.

Our supervisors at Alto are also very skilled in identifying their employees’ strengths and inviting them to work on new projects. I really enjoy explaining things to people, so I’ve helped to re-write the training program for our patient care pharmacists; everything from surveys of how my team thinks we should train, to the training schedule, to physical training guides to help develop our new PCPs. That’s an opportunity I never would have had in traditional retail and I am grateful for the opportunity to help expand and train our team. I feel like working as a team is a great way to grow as a pharmacist, and ultimately benefits our patients which is why we are here.