Pharmacist Tyler Liebegott and his mother, who passed away from cancer.
Although more than 100 million Americans live with chronic pain, those suffering can feel utterly alone and misunderstood. Their pain can be invisible – conditions like migraine or rheumatoid arthritis don’t always have symptoms others can see – and it can be hard for others to fully comprehend the toll unrelenting pain takes on a person.
That’s why Walgreens has focused in on acute and chronic pain as areas where our pharmacists can play a more involved role, helping patients navigate prescriptions, alternative treatments and over-the-counter offerings, including some new products launching this year. But beyond their clinical expertise, Walgreens is empowering pharmacists to better understand the challenges patients in pain face through a special training program developed in collaboration with the Global Healthy Living Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of people with chronic disease.
Our pharmacists from around the country are now able to offer customers free, one-on-one consultations to provide comprehensive education and personalized solutions for pain management. In honor of Pain Awareness Month (September), Walgreens News spoke to one of these pharmacists, Tyler Liebegott, Pharm.D., to learn how the training helped him assist his patients – and why being there for them isn’t just a professional goal, but a uniquely personal one.
Walgreens News: Why do you think Walgreens can play an important role in helping patients manage pain?
Tyler Liebegott: On average, anywhere from 20 to 30% of my conversations with patients are regarding some type of pain, whether it's during the dispensing of chronic pain medications, or it's over-the-counter questions. At my store, which gets a lot of foot traffic, we actually get a ton of over-the-counter questions, which gives you an opportunity to have clinical conversations with patients who may not fill their prescriptions with Walgreens.
I always try to provide the best level of care, not only by suggesting some type of over-the-counter treatment if appropriate, but also offering them a person to lean on, a person that they can just express their feelings to, at no charge. Because sometimes, cost can be a constraint. So being able to walk into a Walgreens and talk to a healthcare provider at no charge…. sometimes that's what a patient needs just as much as a filled prescription.
WN: What did you learn in the training that now helps you provide better care to your patients dealing with pain?
Liebegott: There was a lot of in-depth information on the different types of pain, but what stood out to me was the focus on empathic care which is a skill that wasn’t really taught during my academic career as a pharmacy student. I had training in pharmacy school about how to treat pain, but this was a new way of thinking about having empathetic, caring conversations that help develop a treatment plan with realistic goals for patients.
I've learned that pain is something that you and I may not be able to ever see. You can understand somebody's frustration with pain, but you can never really understand what pain they're in because pain is a subjective feeling. You and I may be experiencing the same exact things on a clinical level, but we perceive them as different.
Also, pain is something that is hard to control. It's hard to treat. But there are many different kinds of treatment, from both a psychological standpoint and a physiological standpoint. Walgreens has given us a lot of training regarding the tools we can offer to patients in our stores – for example, new Walgreens health & wellness brand products like our red light therapy wrap and vibration therapy wrap, and Diclofenac gel, an original prescription-strength arthritis pain relief in topical form.
WN: Why is helping patients manage their pain so important to you?
Liebegott: As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder, mitochondrial disease. My parents and I were told that there is no cure or treatment. In addition, I was put on hospice for many years. After I was diagnosed in 1996, my parents were told that I had a 98% mortality rate by the age of ten. I’ve unfortunately had to go through 38 surgeries myself, and I live with chronic pain daily.
Tyler as a child, with his mother.
My mom passed away from stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, and I watched her suffer for four years with pain caused by her disease. That was during my academic career as a pharmacy student. When you're caring for a loved one, you want to do everything that you can in your power to make them comfortable, so while I was in school, I took the time to take electives around pain management to see if I could come up with any outside the box ideas to make my mom more comfortable. Pain management is extremely personal to me, and I know how important it is for patients and caregivers to find solutions. I have the same goal for each of my patients that I had for my mom: To make life comfortable enough so it is worth living with a purpose.
WN: What would you tell someone who is experiencing pain about how Walgreens can help?
Liebegott: I think the community pharmacist has a wide variety of tools in their tool belt that patients most likely don't think of when it comes to pain.
Medicine has come a long way, and there are a lot of treatments that are over-the-counter now that may have not been in the past. When you’re in pain, you want immediate relief; your pharmacist may have something right on the shelf that can be beneficial for you, in the very moment that you step into the store. In addition, our pharmacists also have a wide range of resources and are part of the community, so they may be able to make recommendations to pain clinics, physical therapists, occupational therapists or other providers patients may not think of.
Customers may speak with our pharmacists about how to manage their pain in-store, over the phone and via Pharmacy Chat, which is available online or through the Walgreens app.
We are here for you, ready to offer an empathetic ear, without judgement, and to offer solutions whenever we can.