National Pharmacists Month Spotlight: Wei-Lin Chang
For many Americans living with a chronic health condition, prescription medications are necessary to manage symptoms and prevent complications. But following a treatment plan can be easier said than done. There are many considerations involved, from managing medication interactions and side effects to staying on track with related testing and follow-up appointments. And of the 66% of U.S. adults who are prescribed medication, only half take their medication as prescribed.
At Alto, medication therapy management pharmacists like Wei-Lin Chang help patients navigate all the complexities of managing a chronic disease. As part of our coverage of American Pharmacist Month 2022, we spoke to Wei-Lin about her professional path, the challenges of retail pharmacy, and the importance of medication education.
What motivated you to pursue a career in pharmacy?
I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do when I first entered college. My parents encouraged me to pursue a career in healthcare, but I knew I was a bit too squeamish around needles to become a doctor or nurse.
I took a chemistry class that I really enjoyed and decided to do all the pharmacy prereqs. I then did an internship with the head of pharmacy at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Through that experience, I saw firsthand that pharmacists were a critical liaison between patients and doctors, with so much valuable information about medication strength, directions, dosing, and administration.
After that, I pretty much knew that pharmacy was for me. I’ve been practicing since 2002.
What challenges have you encountered as a pharmacist?
Before Alto, I worked in traditional retail pharmacy. In that setting, you’re so busy as a pharmacist — it’s one customer after another after another.
I worked both daytime and night shifts, and it was during the night shift, when the store was much more quiet, that I could really counsel patients without feeling so pressed for time. During the day, I simply didn’t have the free minutes to always answer patient questions or give recommendations.
Another challenge I faced was the perception of our profession. At the beginning of my career, in the early 2000s, many people I encountered didn’t know a pharmacist did much beyond putting pills in bottles and handing them off to customers. Not only did this lead to frustration from my customers, who would wonder what we were doing and why it was taking so long, it led to missed opportunities to more actively participate in a patient’s health journey.
Tell us more about your role at Alto.
More medication education for patients is an urgent need within American healthcare. People taking multiple medications have to be mindful of potential side effects and medication interactions.
The growing field of medication therapy management is an opportunity for pharmacists to play an even bigger role in patient health, and I’m very proud to work for a company that prioritizes this particular area of pharmacy.
As a medication therapy management (MTM) pharmacist, I contact patients who take multiple medications — often multiple heart medications — and review their entire regimen over the phone. I make sure that they understand the purpose of each medication they’re taking and are on track with related testing.
For example, it’s important to get your liver function checked every 6-12 months if you’re taking cholesterol-lowering medications that are processed by the liver, or to get your A1C levels checked every 3-6 months if you’re taking diabetes medication.
We also discuss side effects, interactions, when to take medication, and what food to take it with. Too often, there isn’t the space for these conversations between pharmacists and patients, but they are so essential to a patient’s overall health.
How is Alto’s pharmacy model unique?
I love our pharmacy specializations. It’s unique to have a team that focuses solely on patients and another team that focuses on fulfillment. Not all pharmacies have a medication therapy management program, and it’s possible at Alto in part because of our smart allocation of resources.
Being able to use all of my time to focus on my core job functions is such a contrast to retail pharmacy, where you’re constantly bombarded from all sides at once.
As a pharmacist, what does “care” mean to you?
Care to me means going above and beyond for your patients and making sure all loose ends are tied. As an example, I recently initiated a transfer for one of the heart medications a patient takes. At Alto, we always complete every single step of the prescription transfer process on the patient’s behalf. He was so appreciative, and when I got off the phone, I could tell from his voice that he was smiling ear to ear. That’s the experience I want all of my patients to have.
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 and specialty patient care pharmacist Gabrielle Kaplan.