Bev Clifford — Kaiser Permanente San Jose and Prescription Labeling

Before I begin this narrative, I want to pay tribute to the woman who started it all: the late Barbara Rhodes, long-time and treasured member of our Silicon Valley Council of the Blind chapter. Due to her tireless effort and New York chutzpah, Kaiser began offering Talking Pill Bottles to its patients in our area sometime in the early 2000's. We miss her, and our chapter has since created our Barbara Rhodes Technology Grant in her honor. I was one of the patients who benefited from her work, and her example inspired me to take action.

I was also inspired by a company called EnVision America, which for several years had been struggling to convince Kaiser Permanente that their product, ScripTalk (a playback unit that audibly reads a person all the information on their prescription labels) would be beneficial to its blind and visually impaired patients. Near the beginning of 2017, not long after Vic and I had signed up for the Kaiser Senior Advantage program, I determinedly began a phone campaign to encourage Kaiser to seriously consider ScripTalk — and that's making a long story short: there were many calls to many departments before finally, in April 2017, I reached someone who was willing to listen to and take notes on what I had to say. And whether because of their ongoing communication with EnVision America, or possibly spurred on by my insistent nagging, I received a call two months later informing me that my next prescriptions would arrive with a ScripTalk unit that would read the information that a mail-order pharmacist would record on a little label on the bottom of each prescription bottle or box. I was thrilled! And I made a special call to their Pharmacy Department that very day thanking Kaiser fervently for finally seeing the light.

In January of 2018, I became a member of Kaiser San Jose's Member Patient Advisory Council (MPAC), which meets once a month to glean important input from and listen to the concerns of patients on any and all issues, whether trivial or serious, surrounding their Kaiser facility here, so that patients and Kaiser staff can work together to address them. During my intake interview, I made it clear that my major reason for joining this committee was to advocate for people with disabilities, particularly (of course) those of us who are blind and visually impaired, and that I was especially interested in speaking with pharmacy representatives. For although I was extremely grateful for Kaiser's adoption of ScripTalk, I knew they could do more. I was aware that EnVision America also offers braille labeling on prescription containers (a fact that would be vital to the deaf-blind community), plus they have developed an iPhone app called ScripView that enables VoiceOver to read a specific kind of label affixed to the little instruction booklet that comes with each prescription, therefore allowing visually impaired patients with large print capability to read the information on prescription containers as well.

Just last month, when I received the agenda for our upcoming MPAC meeting, I saw that people from Pharmacy would be attending. And fortunately for me, I was in a position to demonstrate not only the ScripTalk unit, but also the braille labeling and the iPhone app, reason being that before I returned to Kaiser I was under AETNA's medical insurance, and AETNA had agreed to implement all three of EnVision America's options, whereas at that time Kaiser hadn't agreed to any of them. When I was asked which option I wanted, I requested them all, so that when the time came I could show somebody at Kaiser how they all worked. And now, at last, that time had arrived.

So I happily packed up my ScripTalk unit, an old AETNA prescription bottle with the braille label, the little instruction booklet to be used with the ScripView iPhone app (that I had just downloaded that morning), and off I went to the meeting. The other MPAC members and the assembled staff seemed impressed with the products — most of them had never heard about or seen them — and after the meeting one of the pharmacists came to my table to get a better look at the bottle with the braille label. I was pleased with my demonstration except for the iPhone app, which had worked (although slowly) that morning, but which I couldn't guarantee would work properly at the meeting. But at least I was able to explain the concept, showing them the app, and then turning up the volume to the max so they could listen to how VoiceOver can read the prescription information from the history of the labels it had previously scanned this morning. Then I went home and forgot about it all.

That meeting was about two weeks ago. And just two days ago, I received a call from one of the Volunteer Coordinators we work with, who was delighted to spread the news that Kaiser San Jose's mail-order pharmacy has just ordered the braille printer they need to emboss braille labels for prescription bottles, and that when I refill my next prescriptions, the bottles/boxes will have braille on them! And if they'll do this for me, that means that any other San Jose Kaiser patient who wants braille on their bottles can get it, too. Hallelujah! I'm not sure if every walk-in pharmacy will have a braille printer quite yet, and I have no idea whether Kaiser will implement the large-print option in the future, but this is a good start. Hooray for advocacy!