Questions Answered with Tonya Winders, MBA, CEO & President of Allergy & Asthma Network

April 2015, Vol 3, No 4 - Inside Allergies & Asthma

In a recent interview with Inside Patient Care: Pharmacy & Clinics, Tonya Winders, MBA, CEO & President of Allergy & Asthma Network, discussed the role of retail pharmacies and clinics in allergy and asthma care, as well as questions healthcare professionals should ask patients to ascertain their goals, and how to best work with patients to meet these goals.

What is your background at Allergy & Asthma Network?

A: I have actually spent the past 16 years of my personal and professional life addressing allergies and asthma.

Personally, I am the mother of 5, 4 of whom have allergies and/or asthma, and who range in age from 10 to 15 years. Professionally, I worked in the allergy and asthma space in pharmaceuticals, devices, and diagnostics. I actually came to lead Allergy & Asthma Network in 2013 when the president and founder, Nancy Sander, retired after 28 years of service.

I lead the organization from a strategic perspective, and ensure that our activities align with our mission, which is to end needless death and suffering associated with asthma, allergies, and related conditions. We do that through 4 core mission areas: outreach, education, advocacy, and research. We tailor all of those areas to patients and families, and healthcare professionals.

Allergy & Asthma Network is a multidisciplinary, patient-centered network. That is what we are all about. Ninety percent of our members are patients and families. The other 10% is a committed group of healthcare professionals—pharmacists, nurse practitioners, asthma educators, school nurses, respiratory therapists, primary care physicians, pediatricians, specialists like allergists and pulmonologists, and patient advocates.

We are working on Capitol Hill to ensure families receive the care they need, in addition to conducting outreach, awareness, and education activities. We are here for you. We have a toll-free help line that is manned by nurse practitioners and asthma educators who are here to help.

What is the role of retail pharmacies and clinics in allergy and asthma?

A: We believe that retail pharmacies and clinics are essential to the healthcare team. It is important that the healthcare team is aware of the goals of the patient. For some people, that may be to exercise without being impacted by symptoms. For others it may be to simply climb a flight of stairs or be able to live their normal daily lives without limitations associated with their symptoms. In fact, we often hear from people who are just focused on losing 10 lbs in order to breathe better.

What we try to do is address a person’s individual goals, and identify barriers to accomplishing those goals. We believe that’s the very first step in achieving optimal health.

What questions should pharmacists and clinicians ask patients to ascertain these goals?

A: Healthcare delivery is changing rapidly and pharmacists are playing an ever-increasing, important role. I think it is something as simple as, when you see a newly diagnosed patient, just engaging them about what their goals are for treatment, and what they are hoping to accomplish.

Unfortunately, so many times we just go through the motions of, “Do you have any questions?” For a newly diagnosed patient, that is really opening up Pandora’s box, because they have a million questions, of course. I think it is important to establish a simple baseline goal, whatever it may be, and then ask the patient what barriers may exist to accomplishing that goal at the outset of treatment.

What is key information for patients with asthma starting a new prescription?

A: Again, chronic disease is a journey. As patients start a new prescription, I think it is important for them to understand what the medicine is, and when and how to appropriately take it, but it is just as important to know why they need to take it.

For example, many patients with asthma will get their quick reliever inhaler and controller inhaler confused. That is, your short-acting bronchodilator albuterol and your inhaled corticosteroid, respectively, that are typically prescribed for a new asthma patient. Especially in asthma medication management, the technique used with inhalers is critically important. At Allergy & Asthma Network we have posters, magazines, and educational videos to help patients along the journey.

What innovations and key topics are you looking forward to in allergy and asthma?

A: This is a really exciting time for the allergy and asthma space. I think that there are a lot of breakthroughs—specifically in treatment—when we think about immunotherapy. Traditionally, immunotherapy has been delivered through shots administered by board-­certified allergists.

As we look to the future there are new treatments, such as sublingual immunotherapy tablets that are FDA approved. Sublingual drops, as well as oral immunotherapy, for different food and environmental allergens, are also on the horizon.

In patients with severe asthma, there are innovative, new procedures and biologics in development; a new procedure called bronchial thermoplasty, has actually been FDA approved for patients with severe asthma. These are the patients who have really run the gamut of every medication and treatment that is available today, and are still dealing with numerous limitations to their daily activities. New biologics and procedures can offer hope for many.

I think we dream of the day when there are cures for asthma and food allergies, things like the peanut patch that is in development, or food oral immunotherapy. It is too early to say whether these treatment modalities will be cures, as they have completed the full regulatory process of approval, but some of the initial studies are very, very promising. We look forward to these innovations.

How will retail clinics evolve in the next 5 to 10 years to accommodate patients with asthma and allergies?

A: I think this is one of the reasons why the Allergy & Asthma Network is partnering with retail clinic healthcare professionals across the United States. We have formal partnerships within the Convenient Care Association, and with The Little Clinic organization.

We are working to help educate nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists because we know that they will play an increasing role in the healthcare of the 60 million Americans who live with allergies and asthma every day. Families are demanding broader access and convenience.

We know that this is important to families, and we also know that retail clinics are a vital piece of that puzzle. We strongly believe that education is the key. We must provide support along the journey of chronic disease management, and pharmacists, as well as retail clinic healthcare professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants, are vitally important to that journey.

They will be called upon more frequently by patients and families. They, too, must have access to accurate, easily understood education tools, as well as the support of a community of others like them.

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