Oct 05

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

by Wayne Oliver – Vice President at RxAlly
Originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on October 5, 2012

As a child, I can’t tell you how many times I heard that question. As a parent, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked that question.

Over the years, dentists have done a fantastic job of raising awareness of the importance of preventative dental care. They give us tooth brushes and dental floss after each and every visit. They schedule appointments with us every six months to check our teeth and reinforce the importance of preventative dental care.

It wasn’t always that way. Dentists used make a living pulling teeth … not preserving them. But over the last half century, the dental community has changed the way we view preventative dental care. Plus, those of us fortunate enough to have dental insurance often paid little to nothing out-of-pocket for preventative dental services.

So how can the health care system — more specifically, how can health care professionals — learn from the dental profession?

First, we should learn to value preventative services.

At this time of year, every physician, pharmacist and nurse should be asking each individual, “Have you had your flu shot yet?” As patients, we should grow as tired of that question as kids have grown tired of parents asking them if they have brushed their teeth.

Influenza rapidly spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics and imposes a considerable economic burden in the form of hospitalizations and other health care costs and lost productivity. In the US alone, recent estimates put the cost of influenza epidemics to the economy at $71 to $167 billion per year.

And, the impact of influenza outbreaks can largely be controlled with a simple, affordable and readily accessible solution: the flu vaccine. It is one of the most preventable diseases and virtually everyone should get immunized against influenza.

Hospitalization and deaths mainly occur in at-risk groups (elderly, chronically ill and young children). Although difficult to assess, these annual epidemics are thought to result in between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world.

So, have you had your flu shot yet?

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put a dollar figure on visits to doctor’s offices and emergency rooms for the treatment of flu-stricken children. The study also looked at the amount of time parents have to miss work and care for little ones while they recover. The study found that parents had medical expenses ranging from under $300 to about $4,000 and missed between 11 and 73 hours of work, depending on whether their child was able to recover at home or was hospitalized. Most of these illnesses and costs are entirely and completely preventable.

Those of us who are parents know that kids are veritable germ factories. So, has your kid had his/her flu shot yet?

Several years ago, public health workers noticed that pharmacists had a significant impact on improving influenza immunization rates in states which allowed pharmacists to provide immunizations. Now, pharmacists in all 50 states can administer the influenza vaccine. According to the American Pharmacists Association, more than 20 million individuals are immunized by pharmacists against the influenza virus.

As we have discussed in this blog, pharmacists are America’s most accessible health care professional. Almost every community has access to a community pharmacy. There is usually not a wait in pharmacies to receive the vaccine and patients usually don’t have a schedule an appointment. The flu shot is relatively inexpensive ($20-$25) and is often covered by health plans.

There are few legitimate reasons not to get immunized against influenza this year. Talk to your family physician, pediatrician or pharmacist about getting the flu shot soon.

Still, more has to be done to raise the awareness level of the general public of the importance of preventative health care services like the influenza vaccine. Maybe, beginning every fall, we need every health care professional to start asking the question, “So, have you had your flu shot yet?”

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