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    Study to provide a healthy grasp of medications

    A drug company, USF and the state team up to educate people suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 25, 2002

    Low-income patients who struggle with medical jargon will soon get some help understanding their doctors' orders through a study unveiled Monday by the University of South Florida and pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.

    Representatives from Pfizer, the university and the state were on hand at USF's College of Public Health to announce the Florida Health Literacy Study, a two-year, $3.1-million program aimed at improving the company's education programs for community health center patients with diabetes and high blood pressure.

    The study will examine how to break down the language barriers that confuse patients who speak little to no English, or who have trouble grasping complicated medical terminology. These barriers often result in patients taking incorrect doses of medication or being unnecessarily hospitalized -- mistakes that Pfizer says can cost close to $73-billion per year.

    "Medical professionals, government and policy leaders, and, most importantly, millions of patients in this country and their families, will benefit from the answers that this study will provide," said Karen Kate, president of the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group and an executive vice president of Pfizer Inc.

    Twenty-eight community health centers statewide, including centers in Plant City, Dover and Ruskin, will participate in the study by offering group classes and visual aids to eligible patients. To be eligible, patients must be between the ages of 18 and 64, receive Medicaid and be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes or hypertension.

    Diana Lopez, the director of nursing for Suncoast Community Health Centers Inc., said the program is under way and long overdue.

    "I think this was really the first time that such material has been developed for people who are really in need, and at a level that they can comprehend," she said.

    Pfizer is paying the university $1.6-million to conduct the study, with another $1.5-million going to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

    Dr. Melinda Forthofer, an assistant professor of community and family health and the principal investigator on the study, said the college of public health will use the Pfizer study to help cultivate its own projects.

    "We need to not overlook the opportunity to use public/private partnerships to advance our health agenda," she said. "Clearly, public-only initiatives have not gotten us where we need to be."

    Other universities, such as Harvard and Northwestern, vied for the project. But Barbara DeBuono, Pfizer's senior medical director, said Florida's combination of rural, elderly and Spanish-speaking residents pushed USF ahead of the rest.

    "All the stars are in alignment," she said. "You've got a lot of the right conditions that make it very, very good to do a study here."

    If the study is a success, DeBuono said, Pfizer could extend its education programs nationwide.

    "Given what we learn, we may be able to roll this out elsewhere in the country besides just Florida," she said. "But this is the place where we're testing, this is the place where we start."

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