Auburn Pharmacist Spotlight: Dr. Garrett Aikens

Garrett Aikens stands outside the VA hospital

AUBURN, Alabama – Dr. Garrett Aikens is the Associate Chief of Pharmacy for Clinical Services with the Tuscaloosa Veterans Administration. A member of the HSOP Class of 2011, he was recognized by the Alabama Pharmacy Association with the 2019 Excellence in Innovation Award. Learn more about his innovative work with the VA and how he is getting involved with HSOP's Population Health Clinic.


RELATED: Pharmacy, VA Partner to Provide Innovative Care to Veterans in Alabama

What drew you to your work with the VA and this particular area of pharmacy?

I began working in a community pharmacy straight out of high school with the goal to attend Auburn University and become a pharmacist. I love practicing in community pharmacy because of the relationships I build with patients and the trust they place in me as a health care provider.

Throughout my time in the Harrison School of Pharmacy, Huntsville Hospital for APPE, and my residency at the Community Medical Center in Missoula, Montana I truly enjoyed all aspects of pharmacy practice, inpatient and ambulatory care, but my passion continued to lie with ambulatory care because I could continue to build long lasting relationships with patients, work with them to improve medication safety and their health care outcomes, and ultimately see those positive outcomes come to fruition.

In Montana, pharmacists have long been afforded greater autonomy and privileges to improve patient care than in Alabama. After completion of my post-graduate residency, when it came time to move back to Alabama, I wanted to put my training and passion to good use and there was no better place to do that than the VA where pharmacists have been authorized to practice under their own scopes of practice in the ambulatory care arena. The VA was and remains one of the most progressive and exciting places to practice as a pharmacist and has been decades ahead of the private sector in recognizing the skills and ability of pharmacists and putting those to work to provide the highest quality care to the Nation’s Veterans “who shall have borne the battle.”


Last summer you won the Excellence in Innovation Award from APA. What did it mean to you to be recognized in that way for your work?

To me, this was in no way an individual recognition. In so many ways, the VA is a highly-innovative healthcare system and it puts a tremendous emphasis on innovation. They were the first to have an electronic medical record, years before they were implemented in the private sector. They have developed programs in the past several years through the Innovators Network, Office of Rural Health, etc. to encourage and provide resources to develop innovative ideas.

Through these programs, innovative best practices are diffused throughout the country. Many of the services we offer at the Tuscaloosa VA are a product of this diffusion and our best practices have been diffused throughout the region and the country. It’s exciting to me to see the VA get some very deserved recognition for its commitment to innovation.


With the broad scope of care you are credentialed for through the VA, what kind of impact are you seeing a pharmacist can make on the lives of patients?

Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to improve patient outcomes through medication management, the optimization of medication regimens through prescribing, de-prescribing, adjusting, and switching medications to maximize patient safety and outcomes.

Physicians entrust their patients to us make these changes under our own scope of practice preventing any delay in improving the patients care/outcomes. With these privileges, pharmacists have been shown to improve transitions of care, decrease hospitalizations, improve control of chronic diseases such as COPD, heart failure, diabetes, hypertension, etc.  With the specialized knowledge of how medications work in the body, interact with other medications, food, genes, etc. this should not be much of a surprise.

But, I think a large reason why pharmacists are able to improve outcomes for patients through the use of a broad scope of practice is because we are enabled and encouraged to take care of the whole patient and in a patient centric way. Often times, patients may be referred to the pharmacist for management of a single disease state such as diabetes, but this is rarely the only issue the patient is dealing with and may not even be the patient priority.

When we see patients in our clinic, we are authorized and credentialed to address any medication related issue that presents itself. So, after discussing a plan of care for diabetes with the patient, we may then ask them some questions to assess their COPD which then leads to opportunities to help them with their inhaler technique to improve symptom control, or add a needed medication to decrease their incidence of an exacerbation or hospitalization.

Through a broad scope of practice and with authorization from the physicians to address all medication related issues, we are able to increase the patients access to care and timely management of chronic diseases that may otherwise soon lead to negative outcomes. Further, patients are able to schedule appointments with or “walk-in” to see their pharmacist without a consult or formal referral from their PCP. In the VA, just like in community setting, the pharmacist is the patient’s most available health care provider.


You are using telemedicine to provide care for veterans living in rural areas. How critical is that for people to have that option and what are the benefits you are seeing from that process?

Telemedicine has provided many patients the option for more immediate access to their healthcare providers particularly in West Alabama where over a third of our veterans are considered rural and would have travel long distances for an appointment or are physically disabled making travel difficult or not an option.

From a pharmacy perspective, telemedicine through video appointment allows us to assess the patient in a much improved way compared to telephone care which was previously the only alternative to a face-to-face visit in clinic.

This is particularly important for care such as medication reconciliation where the patient can show their medication bottles over video for verification, assessment of administration technique for inhalers, injectables, etc. to ensure patients are receiving the full benefit of the medication, and in mental health where assessing the patients mood and affect are vital to assessing the severity of the patients mental health condition and if medication adjustments are needed.


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About the Harrison School of Pharmacy

Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School’s commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn’s overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.

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Last Updated: April 7, 2020