Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D and Joshua C. Hollingsworth, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

As we get older, it is interesting to take a step back and watch as professional organizations and societies react to forces in the profession. Often, these reactions can lead to development of policy, new or renewed advocacy efforts, convening of experts in consensus conferences, and a host of other activities. Collectively, these activities address a specific need within the profession. A few examples quickly come to mind from the last several years: development of technician certification programs, the ongoing fight against DIR (direct and indirect remuneration) fees, and the current widespread efforts for pharmacists to be recognized as providers under Medicare Part B. Readers can certainly identify other efforts.

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There are numerous forces impacting pharmacy today. Pharmacists’ scope of practice is expanding; some states are changing their laws faster than others. The opioid epidemic continues to receive front-page news, especially with recent legal decisions and the public availability of the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS), also known as the “pain pill database.” Customer service remains a critical aspect of community pharmacy. Pharmacists must be aware of recent EPA regulations regarding drug disposal. Pharmacy management system integration with PDMPs and immunization registries poses technical and financial challenges. The list goes on and on.

A nontechnical challenge that has existed for decades has recently received growing attention. This challenge is the physical and mental well-being of those who work in healthcare. The recent focus on this challenge began in the medical profession, but thankfully, awareness and concern have spread to other health professions. Have you or a colleague experienced back issues from standing at a computer for hours? Do you know anyone who feels mentally exhausted after a day behind the counter? Certainly, we all have our challenging days, but the sustained stress that many in pharmacy experience is simply not healthy, mentally or physically. We wonder, why did it take so long to acknowledge that the work of healthcare is contributing to poor health for those who work in healthcare?

Is there an easy solution? No. Are efforts being made to address the problem? Yes. Awareness is the first step. The prominent terms to know are “well-being” (the state of health and happiness) and “resilience” (the ability to recover from challenges). Readers may have noticed these topics in national meeting agendas. Some pharmacy organizations have developed entire initiatives related to these topics. Pharmacy schools are beginning to incorporate initiatives into their informal and formal activities. Today’s pharmacy students are definitely more “tuned into” these topics than we were.

If we focus on well-being, the complexity of maintaining a sense of health and happiness is readily apparent. It is a complex concept. There are numerous domains of well-being, including physical, emotional, financial, and intellectual. To simplify, we are going to focus on exercising routinely, which is good for mental and physical well-being. We know: Who has time to exercise? We live that struggle every day. For our purposes here, though, we are going to assume that our readers are dedicated to exercising. In fact, we are going to focus on an approach to incorporating technology to support a culture of exercise within the pharmacy.

Everyone enjoys a little competition, right? What about accountability? Do you find that having an accountability partner helps you exercise? Research tells us accountability and competition are great motivators for exercise. Many even use their wearable activity trackers (e.g., Fitbit, Apple Watch) to remind them periodically throughout the day to exercise (a type of accountability). Do you and your co-workers have a wearable activity tracker and/or a smartphone? Of course you do. Well, you only need one more tool to start a pharmacy exercise program: a platform to record the data. We have been using the Count.It platform, but there are others that we encourage readers to explore.

Activity Recording Platform Features to Look for

What features do we find most useful? The most important feature is the platform’s ability to pull data (ideally in near real time) from a wide range of activity tracking apps and wearables, specifically those that the pharmacy staff already uses. Selection of a platform that requires specific activity trackers will likely create a barrier to participation among those who do not have a compatible app or wearable device, especially if they would have to purchase a new tracker in order to participate. Requiring someone to purchase an activity tracker is a major participation barrier. Therefore, it is important for the platform to have a free smartphone app, or to be compatible with other free apps (e.g., Fitbit, MapMyWalk) that can track physical activity.

The activities tracked are the next question to consider. The low hanging fruit is steps per day, which is a common metric among platforms. However, what about people who want to swim or bike? What about yoga and other types of exercise that are somewhat stationary? This is an area where we would like to see more development, at least among the free platforms. Count.It tracks swimming and cycling (and dance), but is time a better measure of exercise for an activity like yoga? We believe so.

If competition is a major motivator for your pharmacy staff’s participation, the presentation of data will be important. Ideally, a web- or app-based dashboard will present data that includes participant exercise over a predetermined time, current and former rank among other participants, and progress to goals (if goals have been set). It is also important to consider competition at the individual level. Some participants may be more concerned about improving on their exercise versus competing directly with others. For these individuals, a longitudinal display of exercise — especially in the form of graphs — can be particularly meaningful.

It’s easy to use technology to support a wellness program at your pharmacy.

1. Foster Friendly Competition – Look at wearable activity trackers to prompt that afternoon walk. Link it to the Count.It platform to record the data.

2. Make It Easy – The platform should have a free smartphone app, or be compatible with other apps.

3. Have Options – Number of steps is an easy metric to track, but consider other forms of exercise, to give staff options they enjoy.

4. Track Results – Look for a dashboard that allows multiple locations to record their exercise.

Price is always a consideration. We have found that use of exercise-tracking platforms among small groups of people with a basic set of features is often free. As features such as data downloads and reward/prize management are added, the platforms become fee based. In our experience thus far, the free service has provided the features we need for a small group of friends to have a fun competition. However, for multilocation pharmacy operations, it may be important to have store-level competitions in which each store competes against the others. Some platforms only include team competitions in the fee-based models. Regardless of the pharmacy setting, we encourage readers to critically consider physical well-being among pharmacy staff. If an exercise initiative fits your pharmacy’s culture, we believe existing exercise tracking platforms can meet your needs. Explore the options and let us know about your experiences and questions. CT

Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Harrison School of Pharmacy, and Joshua C. Hollingsworth, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor, Pharmacology and Biomedical Sciences, Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, Auburn Campus, Auburn University. The authors can be reached at foxbren@auburn.edu and jhollingsworth@auburn.edu.