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National Pharmacists Month Spotlight: Gabrielle Kaplan

Each October, American Pharmacist Month is an opportunity to not only celebrate the dedication of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, but also to shine a light on all that they do.

The average American visits a pharmacy 35 times a year, and the availability of pharmacists has the potential to address many gaps within healthcare, like access to the underutilized HIV prevention medication PrEP.

Many people who could benefit from the medication are unable to get a prescription from their primary care provider, whether it’s because they live too far from the doctor’s office or aren’t comfortable speaking about their sexual health. There's growing recognition that expanding the role of pharmacists in HIV prevention can help increase PrEP usage.

At Alto, we’re committed to maximizing the possibilities of pharmacy care. Not only do we divide our pharmacy roles into fulfillment and patient advocacy — we have numerous specializations under the umbrella of patient advocacy that allow our pharmacists to be part of the solution to precisely these healthcare challenges.

As part of our coverage of American Pharmacist Month, we spoke with Gabrielle Kaplan, a specialty patient care pharmacist who makes HIV prevention medication and treatment for complex chronic conditions more manageable for patients.

Tell us more about your role at Alto.

I’m a patient care pharmacist in our specialty department. We oversee medications that aren’t as common and which often have more side effects — or more serious side effects — including HIV medications, PrEP for HIV prevention, and injectable medications used to treat chronic conditions like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and high cholesterol.

The side effects associated with these medications can keep people from continuing with them. Since there’s a team of us whose sole focus is serving the patients who take these medications, they don’t just stop treatment. And they don’t have to worry about reaching out to us — we proactively check in. If anything is bothering them, we’ll take the initiative to call their provider and discuss their concerns.

What motivated you to focus on specialty pharmacy, specifically HIV treatment and prevention?

I was very interested in learning more about HIV treatment back in pharmacy school since a family member had passed away from it. The medications available today have drastically transformed what a diagnosis even means. I was excited by the possibilities, and it was always on my radar as a potential interest for the future. Working at Alto is the first time that I’ve been able to completely immerse myself in this specialization.

It’s a rapidly evolving area of both medicine and pharmacy, and there continues to be so much opportunity for pharmacists to take on a bigger role. In my state of Colorado, pharmacists can prescribe the HIV prevention medications PrEP and PEP. At Alto, we’re always discussing these updates and trying to expand the scope of what we offer patients and how we support their treatment.

What challenges have you encountered as a pharmacist?

By far the biggest pain point I experienced in retail pharmacy was staffing and having the number of pharmacists needed to execute all the day’s tasks while still providing great patient care.

Everyone working in a pharmacy is doing their very best, but there’s only so much we can do in an allotted time. It’s a disservice to patients and to those who work in the field — trying to balance the demands with your own mental well-being becomes nearly impossible.How do Alto’s pharmacy specializations make a difference for you and your patients?

Having a specific focus on patient care allows us to actually deliver quality patient care. At retail pharmacies where one pharmacist is doing it all, you’re trying to fill a prescription while on the phone and with someone yelling at you from across the room.

With fulfillment and patient advocacy separated at Alto, we are each able to focus on what’s in front of us at any given moment. For me, that means I can give patients my full and undivided attention and spend as much time with them as possible.

We have such a great team and plenty of support, so there’s no need to worry about other people’s tasks. We can each do the jobs that we’ve been specifically trained and are uniquely equipped to do.

What else is unique about Alto’s model?

The digital model makes it so that geography is less of an obstacle to care, and that each patient in our service areas has access to all of our resources. This is particularly relevant to my division of specialty pharmacy.

Many traditional retail pharmacies don’t have a specialty pharmacy in every physical location. Sometimes the specialty pharmacy is one centralized location from which everything is mailed. That means you won’t necessarily have a pharmacist in your local store who’s familiar with your medications and able to counsel you.

The medication used to treat or prevent HIV is complex, and it can be difficult to stay on track with treatment. The fact that any Alto customer taking these medications can talk to a pharmacist with deep expertise in that area of pharmacy makes a world of difference.

As a pharmacist, what does “care” mean to you?

It means always putting patients first — thinking about the care you would want a family member or friend to receive and delivering just that.

This is part of a series of pharmacist profiles to recognize American Pharmacist Month 2022. To keep the Pharmacist Month celebrations going, meet patient care pharmacist Travis Allison.