Pharmacist Launches Special Program for Hard of Hearing

March 25, 2002
News Office: Twink Stern (415) 502-6397

Dana Testa, who is deaf, is the first known pharmacist in the nation to provide specialized services for the deaf and hard of hearing (D&HH) community.

The services include in-depth counseling about medications, presentations to community organizations and teaching in the UCSF School of Pharmacy. Testa will use information gathered from her clients to create a data base on how to better serve the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community, which is estimated at 400,000 people in the Bay Area alone.

Testa's program is a pilot pharmacy residency, a post-graduate program for pharmacists who elect to continue training and education beyond four years of pharmacy school.

Testa's residency was organized and supported jointly by the UCSF School of Pharmacy and Longs Drugs. Testa always has been determined to build a bridge between the deaf and hard of hearing community and the health care world, writing about her goal in her personal essay when she applied for pharmacy school. "When I talked with my professors about organizing this new pilot residency program in pharmacy, they agreed that I might be able to fill this gap," Testa said.

Advisors Lisa Kroon and Cathi Dennehy, both UCSF assistant clinical professors of pharmacy, mentored Testa while she was getting her pharmacy degree (1996-2001), and thought the residency program also could provide new information to help serve the D&HH community. Kroon and Dennehy also will evaluate the data collected from a voluntary patient survey provided by Testa to each patient. The researchers plan to get baseline information from the patient surveys, including compliance with drugs and patient satisfaction.

Kroon said that before and after Testa's consultations with patients, there will be studies done on compliance and adherence to medications.

The new pharmacy residency combines a three-part program: in-depth pharmaceutical counseling for the D&HH community on three days per week (Monday, Tuesday and Friday) at Longs Drugs-Mission Ranch in Fremont, Calif.; outreach presentations to deaf and hard of hearing community organizations and teaching in the UCSF School of Pharmacy.

The choice of the East Bay as a location for the pharmacy residency program was made for a number of reasons: the nearby California School for the Deaf is the only one in Northern California, a California school for the deaf (K-12) is located in the East Bay and several hundred D& HH students at Ohlone College may use the new pharmacy counseling service. At the Longs Drugs-Mission Ranch site in Fremont, Testa answers questions in American Sign Language about prescriptions, vitamins, medical and diagnostic devices, herbal products and non-prescription medicines. Testa also provides easy access to prescription and refill services as well as medication safety tips through technology such as telephone devices for the deaf (TDD).

"It is important for a pharmacist to assess for drug interactions and adverse reactions to all medicines," Testa said. Another part of her job, she said, is to review the patient's immunization records such as tetanus and flu vaccinations. Although appointments are offered, walk-ins are accepted at the site. Each patient in the special program is a volunteer and receives a counseling session and a follow-up session tailored to individual needs. Participants also fill out brief confidential surveys.

In her outreach in the D&HH community, Testa presents talks at agencies such as the Deaf Counseling Advocacy Referral Agency, St. Joseph's Center for the Deaf, the Deaf Community Center in San Leandro, the Fremont Senior Center, San Jose Senior Center and Ohlone College. Audiences average between 10 and 50 people, and, to make certain she is understood, Testa uses American Sign Language or gesturing to help communicate.

"There is lots of interaction with the audience," she said. "Most of the time we have an open discussion." Topics include medication safety tips, immunizations, antiretrovirals, osteoporosis, complementary and alternative medicine, depression, asthma and allergies and poison prevention.

In one session recently, an elderly man asked, "I read in the paper about grapefruit interacting with some medicines and am concerned that it may interact with what I am taking." Testa described how grapefruit juice interacts with medicines by drawing a picture. "Basically, I explained that grapefruit juice saturates certain enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract," she said, "and those enzymes are essential in breaking down some medications." She explained that drugs which may interact with grapefruit juice include some cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), some calcium channel blockers, caffeine and some benzodiazepines (a group of tranquilizers).

Establishing the pilot residency program required support and coordination of public and private sectors. Testa received support from Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, UCSF Dean of the School of Pharmacy, and associate deans. Funding for the program was provided by UCSF, Longs Drugs and the Institute for Advancement of Community Pharmacy.

A 1992 graduate of Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., Testa received her pharmacy degree from the UCSF School of Pharmacy last June. Testa has a long-term interest in working in underserved communities.

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