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Telepharmacy is Vital for a Post-COVID World

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As technology continues to evolve and the world continues to get smaller, it is important for healthcare professionals to adapt with the times. Smart phones, high-speed internet, Wi-Fi, and home-delivery services have extended people’s reach across the country. It is no longer a necessity for every patient to walk into a doctor’s office or even come into the local pharmacy to get medical help. With the advent of COVID-19, millions were forced to stay at home, and the healthcare system had a massive amount of stress forced upon it. To ensure that everyone gets proper care, with or without the presence of a pandemic, the medical community must incorporate telehealth designs.

Telehealth, when used within the context of pharmacy, is seen as providing pharmacy care by pharmacists via telecommunication within the proper jurisdictions.1 The sort of services that Telepharmacy can provide resemble much of what normal pharmacy offers. Everything from Medication Therapy Management to Chronic Disease Management to Transitions of Care.1 Telepharmacy sharing these similarities with typical pharmacy is one of the many benefits to it. A patient can rest assured that this means of communication with the pharmacist will not necessarily be worse than normal. Other such benefits include (but are not limited to):

  • Customer-Initiated Consultations: A patient or caregiver can reach out with questions about medication, even beyond normal pharmacy hours.
  • Pharmacist-Initiated Consultations: A pharmacist can connect with a patient for follow-up questions or a patient that may be high-risk with their chronic conditions.
  • Pharmacist-to-Healthcare Professional (HCP) Consultations: Pharmacists can speak with other HCPs on a shared management team in real-time to adjust a patient’s care. It’s also possible for two pharmacists to connect regarding a shared patient.

From Nursing Homes to the Community: How Telepharmacy Helps

Pharmacy services are not limited to one setting. As such, the benefits of telepharmacy can be applied to just as many locations. A study looked at two different nursing facilities that utilized monthly pharmacist visits. Upon incorporating telepharmacy into the system, the study found that both facilities showed improvement in the quality of medical care for the patients.4 Not only did it allow for a timelier response to medical errors and issues with medication as they happen, but it could allow for drug monitoring beyond a monthly visit. This was not limited to the patients, though. Nursing and physician staff can also be communicated with in this manner to put all healthcare professionals on the same page regarding patient cases.

The community setting is one of the more common places for pharmacist-patient interactions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable populations did not feel safe to enter their local pharmacy for these interactions. One Canadian paper found that the pandemic also resulted in increased home-deliveries of medications. This spurred the need by these pharmacists to implement telepharmacy more to ensure all their patients are getting proper care.5 The paper went on to describe the benefits of using a mixture of telecommunication (video and phone) into a more traditional, appointment-based model. Improvements in drug adherence occurred specifically when telecommunication practices were compared to typical face-to-face only consultations. The telepharmacy model also allowed for better synchronization of medicine delivery. This means that patients with multiple chronic medications can get a hold of their treatments on one day rather than multiple days.

Problems and (Possible) Solutions

Telepharmacy while clearly the next step in medical care, is only slowly being implemented into common practice. As with any tech-centered service, it will be a heavy financial investment to incorporate video/virtual telepharmacy. The return on the investment comes in the form of better patient care and an expanded patient pool that occurs treating those that can’t do in-person meetings. With new technology, the methods of healthcare delivery need to change to maximize its use. That means future pharmacists will have to be trained to communicate through a video screen, as well as to a person, face-to-face. In fact, one article believes that telecommunication should be taught alongside normal communication in pharmacy school.3 While the article does acknowledge that telecommunication may not be used everywhere along their career path, being exposed to these methods of consulting patients would make students more well-rounded.

Ultimately, the pharmacy boards across the different jurisdictions should look to the examples set by other fields of medicine when it comes to telehealth. So long as they keep focused on building healthy patient relationships and improve quality of care, then telepharmacy will become the next big thing in pharmacy.