A dose of love: Patients get a behind-the-scenes tour of the SickKids Pharmacy Department
By Rubab Abid, Intern, Communications & Public Affairs
On a typical day, 12-year-old Isabella Lamanna takes at least four different medications.
Born with a rare bone disorder, Isabella developed scoliosis as a child and was fitted with a halo traction device, a tool that helps lengthen her spine and straighten her back. Daily adjustments to the device mean a new round of medications to help her manage her pain.
There’s acetaminophen and morphine to help decrease her neck and upper back pain.
Diazepam to help relax her muscles and ease muscles spasms.
Iron supplements to help keep her metabolites in check.
And while Isabella has been in and out of SickKids since the day she was born, she says she never really stopped to think about where her medications actually came from or who helped make them.
“I guess I never really thought about it,” she says. “I just took them.”
On Thursday, Isabella got the chance to take a rare behind-the-scenes look at the SickKids pharmacy as part of an interactive patient tour organized by the Department of Pharmacy, in collaboration with Child Life Services.
The patient tour program, first launched in 2014, is a unique opportunity for patients to visit pharmacy staff and learn more about how their medications are prepared. From bar code scanning to mixing their own medications, patients get the chance to explore many aspects of the Pharmacy.
The first stop on Isabella’s tour was to the automated tablet packager, a machine that helps pharmacy technicians screen and package tablets into unit doses. Isabella met with Princess Gayle, a Registered Pharmacy Technician, who explained how the specialized dispensers help process up to 1,000 packages at a time and ensure that patients receive the correct drugs and dosages.
Next, Isabella made her way to Central Pharmacy where she met with a team of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who help process prescription orders from across the hospital. Isabella learned just how massive the SickKids pharmacy is, dispensing approximately 5,000 medications per day. Prescriptions ranging from vitamins, antibiotics and pain medications, to gastrointestinal, cardiac, and immunosuppressant medications, are delivered to approximately 300 SickKids patients every day.
The last stop on Isabella’s tour was to the Compounding Service, an area where technicians create specialized mixtures of medications for patients with specific needs.
With the help of Pacita Sales, Senior Pharmacy Technician, Isabella threw on a gown and a pair of gloves and prepared a special chocolate-flavoured compound.
From counting and crushing tablets to mixing the chocolate syrup, Isabella got a chance to have a truly hands-on experience and see what one aspect of a pharmacy technician’s job is like.
Renu Roy, Medication Safety Pharmacist at SickKids, says the tours help patients learn more about a critical aspect of their care. She notes that since many pharmacy staff don’t get the chance to have direct contact with patients, the tours are a great way to connect with patients, and vice versa.
“Feedback shows that the staff feels pride in their work when the patients and families come through. It is more meaningful to them when they can put a face to the names of the patients they are providing their services to. Pharmacists, technicians, and assistants have indicated that they feel more connected to the work that they do, it motivates them to work hard, and reminds them of why they need to ensure patient safety,” explains Roy.
Isabella’s mom, Gina Bianchi, says the tour helped her realize how important Pharmacy staff is.
“I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. They’re important, they’re very important – they might not be in the forefront but this experience definitely helped us understand the work that they do for us on a daily basis.”
Isabella said her favourite part of the tour was mixing all the medications.
“I got 15 pills and I added water. Then I crushed them and I added chocolate syrup and then put it in a bottle,” she says.
She described the tour as an eye-opening experience.
“It was really interesting, to get to learn more about what medicines I was taking,” she says. “It really helped me understand where my medicines came from. I think it will help other kids too, I definitely think other kids should check it out.”