Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: For West Virginians, paper health care information is a must

by Jennifer Brown

There’s a reason we say that West Virginia is “Almost Heaven.” Our state’s wild and wonderful mountains and hollows are what make it special, and it’s why so many people are proud to call it home.

As we all know, living in a place as mountainous as West Virginia doesn’t come without its challenges, chief among them access to broadband. That makes it nearly impossible to ensure every West Virginian has access to certain digital tools. West Virginia ranks near the bottom in broadband access, and our access to wireless cell service has even shrunk in recent years.

That’s why it’s so troubling to hear that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to take patient medication information (PMI) from print to digital, where many West Virginians won’t be able to reach it.

Printed PMI is the pamphlet that gets stapled to your prescription bag when you pick up your medications from the pharmacy. It’s vital information that many of us, especially senior citizens, rely on when taking medications because it lets us know dangerous side effects and instructions on how to take it safely. Having this information on hand is critical for a rural state like ours where being able to get back to the pharmacy or doctor could take a while.

If this FDA rule goes into effect, West Virginians will receive a printed QR code that we’ll need to scan with our phones that will take us to a website online that includes this medication information. If you want a printed version, you’ll need to ask your pharmacist to print it for you. Older citizens in our state, many with financial challenges, shouldn’t have to worry about medicinal side effects and technology when they aren’t feeling well. Many seniors don’t have tech savvy family members who can assist them in navigating tech challenges.

Placing the burden of printing PMI on our family-owned pharmacies makes little to no sense. Our local pharmacies do everything they can to serve our communities and saddling them with the extra cost of buying paper, ink, and new printers might cause them to shut their doors for good — hurting the health of the rural communities they serve. In fact, the FDA’s own calculations show that this rule would add 81 million additional hours of work and roughly $1.6 billion in costs for pharmacies nationwide. For family-owned pharmacies in West Virginia, those extra hours and costs could be devastating.

At a time when many pharmacists are already overworked — and some are even staging walkouts to protest job conditions — the FDA should not be saddling them with even more burdens and costs.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first or the last time a government agency in Washington D.C. doesn’t consider the unique challenges a state like ours faces. That’s why I’m thankful that we have our representatives in Congress who can protect us.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito has long demonstrated that she will put the needs of West Virginians over everything and work with her colleagues across the aisle to get things done. That’s why I’m asking her to join with her colleagues to urge the FDA to make vital changes to their proposed rule before it is finalized.

Sen. Capito’s support for printed PMI will be crucial to ensuring all patients, especially senior citizens, have the critical health information they need.

Jennifer Brown serves as president of the West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services, and also director of the Wyoming County Council on Aging Inc.