Surprise Diagnosis Made Easier by Virtual Pharmacy Program
Feb 13, 2024
Sutter Health
A Caucasian woman with long blond hair walking from her bedroom to kitchen table carrying a pillbox

By Bryan Gardner and Liz Madison, Vitals contributors

Friends and family of Cathy Woolley would describe her as all heart. But last year after visiting doctors, they determined only 25% of her heart was functioning.

The shocking diagnosis — congestive heart failure — is on the rise. One out of four people in the United States will develop congestive heart failure in their lifetime, according to the Journal of Cardiac Failure. She was also diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke.

The diagnosis left Woolley stunned. She thought there would be an easy explanation for her constant fatigue and lack of energy. The 59-year-old grandmother from Vacaville, Calif., felt overwhelmed by what her condition meant for her future.

Clinical teams have been working hard at making healthcare simpler for patients like Woolley. Sutter Health, a California-based, not-for-profit health system, launched one medication management program to do just that. The goal is to help patients like Woolley feel supported and empowered as they navigate through a new way of life.

Woolley was concerned about going from zero heart medications to several. Sutter’s Virtual Pharmacy Ambulatory Care Clinic, and Pharmacy Supervisor Josephine Quach in particular, came to the rescue.

“Not only did she talk me through the benefits of the different medicines, she helped me reduce them. She said we’re going to check, we’re going to monitor this. And it’s been great,” Woolley said.


“Patients love it,” Quach added. “We call you at a set time and we can make changes to your medications. And a lot of times patients are quite surprised on how easy it is because they’re used to having to physically come into the clinic. But they’re loving the fact that they can receive the care that they need in the comfort of their own home.”

Dr. Zijian Xu, medical director for the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, says that the virtual pharmacy leverages two very important nuances in healthcare delivery now. “One is the virtual platform where you can provide more efficient and more convenient care to the patients. The other nuance is really leveraging the expertise of our clinical pharmacists.”

Dr. Xu, for instance, recognizes the unique skillset of advanced practice pharmacists in helping care for congestive heart failure patients. Not only does referring his patients to this innovative program optimize their care, but it also frees him up to spend more time with more patients.

“It’s really a win-win situation for clinicians and patients,” he said. “Having the virtual pharmacy program has really allowed my patients to ramp up on their life-saving medications in a much faster and more efficient way. This can translate to avoiding hospitalization and improving symptoms, including quality of life and improving long-term outcomes. And from my standpoint, it really helps to make my workflow much more efficient, allowing me to provide care to more patients.”

Now Woolley is back to doing the things she loves — spending time with her granddaughter at theme parks, camping and dancing at concerts. Best yet, her heart function has improved dramatically, and is in the normal range at 69%.

“I feel like I’m back to who I was,” she said.

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