Lights, Camera, Action…..Prescriptions?

By John Norton

The public perception of pharmacists is changing. The antiquated notion of pharmacist only dispensing pills is consistently belied by the experience of their patients. Slowly but surely the public is becoming aware of the variety of services pharmacists offer that can help improve health outcomes and reduce cost. This shifting perception has occurred even before the possible passage and enactment of paradigm-shifting legislation recognizing pharmacists as providers.

One development that could accelerate the evolution in the public’s perception of pharmacists is described in an article called “Small-town pharmacist hopes to find fame with new TV show” that appeared recently in the Telluride Daily Planet. It is about NCPA member Don Colcord, pharmacist and owner of Apothecary Shoppe in Nucla, Colorado. He is not new to publicity as many should remember the more than 5,000 word article written by Peter Hessler in The New Yorker called “Dr. Don” from September 2011. It is a compelling, heartwarming picture of how an independent community pharmacy owner goes above and beyond to service his rural community:

Calmness is one reason that he has such influence in the community. He’s short and slight, with owlish glasses, and he seems as comfortable talking to women as to men. “It’s like Don looks you in the eye and the rest of the world disappears,” one local tells me. Faith in Don’s judgment is all but absolute. People sometimes telephone him at two o’clock in the morning, describe their symptoms, and ask if they should call an ambulance for the two-hour trip to the nearest hospital. Occasionally, they show up at his house. A few years ago, a Mexican immigrant family had an eight-year-old son who was sick; twice they visited a clinic in another community, where they were told that the boy was dehydrated. But the child didn’t improve, and finally all eight family members showed up one evening in Don’s driveway. He did a quick evaluation—the boy’s belly was distended and felt hot to the touch. He told the parents to take him to the emergency room. They went to the nearest hospital, in Montrose, where the staff diagnosed severe brucellosis and immediately evacuated the boy on a plane to Denver. He spent two weeks in the I.C.U. before making a complete recovery. One of the Denver doctors told Don that the boy would have died if they had waited any longer to get him to a hospital.

Don was recognized for his efforts at the 113th NCPA Annual Convention and Trade Exposition one month after the article’s publication by outgoing NCPA President Bob Greenwood in his address in Nashville, Tennessee. The attention Don garnered has shown no signs of letting up as the Telluride Daily Planet article points out:

Telluride filmmaker Suzanne Beraza featured Colcord in her 2013 documentary about the prospect of another uranium boom in “Uranium Drive-In.”

Stanford graduate student Helen Hood Scheer created an 18-minute short film documentary on Colcord. Called “The Apothecary,” the film won a Student Academy Award in 2014, and Colcord’s wife and grandson attended the Oscars to help receive it.

Recently, producer and director Helen Whitney began shooting a PBS movie about living and dying in various-sized towns. Colcord has been interviewed and will also appear in that show, which airs in the near future.

And now, Colcord’s life story is the basis for what could be a major network TV show.

Katie Jacobs, director and producer of the hit TV series “House,” and Nick Wechsler have created a pilot series. Inspired by Hessler’s article, “Dr. Del” stars John Hawkes—from the TV series “Lost” and “Deadwood”—as Colcord. In the world of television, a pilot episode is used to gauge viewer interest. Networks then decide whether or not to order a full series.

Should the pilot be picked up by a major network, Don will see the financial pinch he battles due to low reimbursements lessen as the money from each episode could help his pharmacy stay open. Let’s hope it does get picked up for the sake of Don and his patients. But also because by shining a light on someone like Don in this fashion could help pharmacists in general garner more support for the pharmacist provider status policy that should become law.

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