“The ability for telemedicine to extend care outside normal pharmacy hours allows patients and/or their caregivers to connect to an available remote pharmacist [any time they need].”
Telehealth and telepharmacy are innovating rapidly, benefiting countless patients in urban and rural areas alike. How telehealth improves the lives of our healthcare providers, however, is an aspect of this space that is often overlooked. By making access and consultations easier, we make things easier for pharmacists and, by extension, their patients.
Pressures of the Modern Pharmacist
Due to America’s aging population and “greater prevalence of chronic diseases,” the number of prescriptions pharmacies are filling is growing rapidly. Statista projects growth from 4 billion prescriptions in 2013 to 4.8 billion in 2021, an increase of 20% in less than 10 years.
Pharmacy Times discusses the pressure of increased workload on pharmacists by saying this “has inevitably led pharmacists to focus more on volume than on delivering personal care. Pharmacists often have little time to provide education about a specific prescription nowadays.”
Everyone can relate to this scenario: a line of rushed patients with unfilled prescriptions, insurance coverage insecurities, tricky follow-up questions, and others who have been non-compliant with their treatment plans. Pharmacists are spread too thin to do their job thoroughly so the question remains, how can we maximize their efficiency and allow them to do their jobs in the best way possible?
The short answer? Telepharmacy might just be a solution.
Telepharmacy Allows Pharmacists to Reconnect With Their Patients
When Pharmacists can consult remotely from anywhere, they are able to provide the time and attention necessary to help patients understand and stick to their treatments. “Telehealth is an easy way to check in on high-risk patients or those with complicated medication regimens, such as elderly patients with multiple chronic diseases,” Jeffrey Kosowsky, MD, Ph.D., of the Pharmacy Times says.
“Observing how a patient looks, acts, and interacts via high-definition video can be a good indicator of whether the medication is effective and a way to identify early signs of subtle side effects or the need for medical follow-up or in-person assistance.”
Kosowsky also notes that the technology can connect pharmacists with care management teams in charge of patients with chronic diseases. Pharmacists can adjust dosages and follow up with any questions about treatment plans.
Vickie Andros supports this notion in her piece at Hands on Telehealth, saying that patients can forget half of what their doctors tell them, including how to administer their own medication.
“We know that effective communication is key in making sure patients remain compliant with treatment regimens...Pharmacists play an important role in patient education and counseling services by reinforcing details related to taking medications properly, the benefits and possible side effects of the drugs and how to self-monitor safely at home.”
Reducing a Pharmacy’s Operating Costs With Technology
Pharmacists and retail chains need to understand the costs of providing care and use that insight to cut costs. That’s one area where telepharmacy shines. If technology can let a pharmacist deliver a consultation without actually being on-site, that means a pharmacy can reduce its overhead and be less expensive to maintain. According to telepharmacy solutions provider PipelineRx, this technology can save hospitals between 30 and 70 percent on direct pharmacist costs, and $300k a year in clinical inventions.
To that end, technology opens up a whole spectrum of ways pharmacies can keep costs down. PokitDok’s Pharmacy API, for example, allows pharmacists look up formulary and benefit information in real-time. This means pharmacy staff members can spend virtually no time manually looking into a patient’s coverage questions. That efficiency drives down soft costs, increases the likelihood of adherence (ie: following a treatment plan) and patient satisfaction by knowing coverage before getting all the way to checkout.
With dramatically lower operating costs, even the smallest communities in America will be able to support their own pharmacies. The team at Smart Retailing Rx has one such example: Phillips Health Mart Pharmacy, which serves the town of Elroy, Wisconsin, and its 1,400 residents.
By having a pharmacist remotely connect from a nearby town, Phillips Health Mart Pharmacy is able to run. Here is what that lean business looks like:
- A single pharmacy technician is on hand between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
- The pharmacy learns what medication local providers prescribe, and it stocks its inventory accordingly.
- Telepharmacy technology lets the pharmacist in nearby Mauston check prescriptions, counsel patients and manage the pharmacy tech on duty.
The result? Elroy’s citizens no longer have to drive 12 miles to Mauston to fill a prescription. That convenience can mean the difference between getting medication and going without - ie: reactive health.
Helping Pharmacists Find Jobs
Telehealth isn’t just good for working pharmacists. It’s great for pharmacists seeking work or looking to earn additional revenue as well. MedCity News reports how PipelineRx is trying to make hospital pharmacies more efficient by using outsourcing models from the staffing industry. These models make drug delivery systems in hospitals more efficient by filling labor shortages with remote pharmacists. This would allow pharmacists working remotely to review prescriptions and provide pharmaceutical services to hospitals without enough local pharmacists.
Advances in telepharmacy are reducing stress, improving the way pharmacists work and helping them focus more on patient outcomes. By optimizing their workload, process and system wide transparency, telepharmacy and supporting partner companies like us can power a more efficient, cost effective system where patients come first.