UF Health to launch CDC-backed Hypertension Pharmacists’ Program in Jacksonville

By Tyler Francischine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has selected University of Florida Health to lead a program that could reduce the health disparity gap in some Jacksonville communities by connecting patients with community pharmacists for help managing high blood pressure.

The Hypertension Pharmacists’ Program is scheduled to debut this summer, expanding access to blood pressure care for the city’s medically underserved, predominantly Black communities.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects nearly half of American adults, and the program aims to better control the disease by embedding clinical pharmacists within a patient’s primary care team. The effort, facilitated by the UF Health Jacksonville Office of Community Engagement, is a collaboration among the UF Health Total Care Clinic – Jacksonville, the UF College of Pharmacy and Panama Pharmacy, and it will allow patients to see a specially trained pharmacist at a community pharmacy and seek individualized care and education.

“Hypertension repeatedly shows up in the triannual Community Health Needs Assessment as a significant health factor and concern in our community. Being able to provide health resources through a collaborative effort such as this is a fantastic opportunity for our patients and for the continuum of care,” says Ann-Marie Knight, M.H.A., FACHE, vice president of community engagement for UF Health Jacksonville.

The Hypertension Pharmacists’ Program highlights the unique position of community pharmacists in helping people manage high blood pressure. As the CDC reports, nearly 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy, making pharmacists the most accessible health care provider for most people. Community pharmacists can also make medication recommendations and lifestyle adjustments to help patients better manage the disease.

The program achieved positive patient outcomes in a pilot study by Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. According to the CDC, the Michigan Medicine Hypertension Pharmacists’ Program reported 66% of the patients who met with a pharmacist achieved control of their hypertension within three months, increasing to 69% of patients within six months.

The CDC chose UF Health Jacksonville to replicate and scale the program in the Southeast, awarding the institution a $25,000 stipend. Studies by CDC researchers consistently report higher rates of hypertension among residents of the Southeast compared with other regions in the U.S.

Chardaè Whitner, Pharm.D., a clinical assistant professor at the UF College of Pharmacy’s Jacksonville campus, will lead the Hypertension Pharmacists’ Program. Her efforts were instrumental in UF securing the CDC’s selection. She said the program will provide vital resources to a community in which three out of four patients with treatment-resistant or uncontrolled hypertension identify as Black or African American.

“As a pharmacist, I see the impact of social determinants of health every day in clinical practice,” Whitner said. “We have to think about actionable models that provide access to care. Collaborating with a community pharmacy like Panama Pharmacy, which can provide accessibility through evening and weekend hours and quality, patient-centered care from clinical pharmacists, ensures we can bridge that gap and see better patient outcomes.”

Kevin Duane, Pharm.D., a 2013 graduate of the UF College of Pharmacy, has owned a pair of Panama Pharmacy locations in Jacksonville since 2016. He said the program’s collaborative model ensures patients receive a continuity of care from a large, diversely trained team of providers.

“It’s very important that community pharmacy is involved in clinical and decision-making activities when it comes to a patient’s plan of care,” he said. “At Panama Pharmacy, we believe in a lot more for our community pharmacists than just dispensing medications. The ability to do this work alongside UF Health Jacksonville and the CDC presents a great opportunity to help patients better manage their blood pressure; to do it for a historically underserved community makes it even sweeter, especially considering this is the community that our pharmacy lives to serve every day.”