Telepharmacy is a rapidly emerging field that has the potential to transform and improve the delivery of pharmacy services. As demand for telepharmacy has increased, so has the need for professionals to provide these virtual pharmacy services. The door is open for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to pursue new opportunities associated with filling the role of a telepharmacist.
Here are six of the reasons why pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should strongly consider becoming telepharmacists.
1. Telepharmacy is growing
Telepharmacy, like other telehealth disciplines, is experiencing significant growth. While recent telepharmacy-specific data is scarce at the moment, we can draw some conclusions about telepharmacy by looking at broader telehealth data.
Overall, telehealth claim lines — defined as individual services or procedures listed on insurance claims — increased nearly 3,600% nationally from August 2019 to August 2020, rising from about 0.2% of medical claim lines in August 2019 to 6.1% in August 2020, according to data from FAIR Health. In 2020, 46% of U.S. consumers have used telehealth — an increase from 11% in 2019, reports McKinsey.
The quantity of telehealth services provided may experience some decline following the pandemic, it is widely believed by industry experts that telehealth will continue to gain traction with patients, providers, and payers in the years to come and become a permanent — and often preferred — option for patient care and the delivery of healthcare services. Nearly all states now permit the practice of telepharmacy under varying conditions, reports Drug Topics. Waivers enacted during the pandemic — some of which may become permanent — helped expand the types of pharmacy services that can be provided virtually.
Our blog from earlier in the year — "Telepharmacy Update: Past, Present, Future" — included discussion about the momentum that is clearly behind telepharmacy and virtual care services. We're even more bullish about the growth prospects for telepharmacy. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs who pursue work as a telepharmacist now may not be getting into the field "on the ground floor," but telepharmacy is clearly just beginning to take off. This should lead to more opportunities for those interested in delivering telepharmacy services.
2. Helping patients
For pharmacy professionals looking to make a difference in the lives of patients, becoming a telepharmacist should prove extremely rewarding. Telepharmacy is a highly efficient and effective way of helping patients, particularly those with reduced access to care (e.g., rural communities) and vulnerable populations.
For patients living in rural communities, telepharmacy can help them receive a range of virtual services that otherwise may have required a lengthy trip — and possibly multiple trips — to a community pharmacy. For vulnerable patients, telepharmacists can deliver services without patients needing to leave their homes, which is an especially important benefit as we continue to battle COVID-19. These services also support efforts to provide patients with comprehensive medication management (CMM).
Common telepharmacy services include the following:
- Medication therapy management (MTM)
- Medication reconciliation post-discharge (MRP)
- Drug information, review, and monitoring
- Patient counseling and assessment
- Annual wellness visits
- Medication synchronization
- Remote patient monitoring
The benefits of telepharmacy are abundant and include improved medication adherence, more timely access to pharmacists and services, reduced need for urgent and emergent care, increased patient engagement in care, and reduced patient costs.
While some telepharmacy service providers establish a physical location for their telepharmacists to work out of, others permit their telepharmacists to work remotely, with some caveats. The telepharmacists must be able to provide services and capture patient data in a secure manner.
The American Pharmacists Association states, "The same HIPAA requirements exist for healthcare providers, whether they are administering patient care in person or via telehealth. Electronic files need to be stored securely and extra precaution needs to be taken to ensure that … both sides of the telehealth consultation (i.e., both the pharmacist’s and the patient’s environments) are private.
"For example, when using video conferencing, windows should be covered to ensure that a passerby cannot inadvertently view patient records and telephonic consultations should be held in a place that would not allow for unauthorized individuals to overhear the conversation. All technology utilized is required to be encrypted and HIPAA compliant."
In addition, telepharmacists may need broadband access to access critical applications, transmit patient data, and provide some telepharmacy services.
Assuming pharmacists can meet these requirements wherever they intend to provide telepharmacy services, then filling the role of a telepharmacist should be simple and convenient.
Although telepharmacy service providers may expect their telepharmacists to meet some contractual requirements concerning service delivery (e.g., number of hours or patients supported in a week/month), telepharmacists often have flexibility concerning their work schedule. Telepharmacy service providers often strive to offer and deliver services 24/7 so as to ensure patients can access pharmacy services whenever they require them and during hours when a brick-and-mortar pharmacy may be closed. As such, these providers are looking for telepharmacists to fill an around-the-clock schedule.
This flexibility also means pharmacists and pharmacy techs may be able to "test out" the experience of working as a telepharmacist for limited hours and then exploring the opportunity to expand their role and/or responsibilities if they find the experience rewarding and worthwhile.
5. Supplemental income
Telepharmacy is a great way for pharmacists and pharmacy techs to earn supplemental income. Telepharmacy service providers may be looking for pharmacy professionals willing to work short — or sometimes long — shifts throughout the day and night and on all days of the week. Pharmacy professionals with full-time positions may be able to take on hours before or after their shifts and/or on days off. And starting a shift of work for those providers without physical locations or that permit their telepharmacists to be remote is likely to be as easy as turning on a computer or tablet and launching a few programs.
6. Develop new skills and strengthen existing skills
The final reason we will highlight is that telepharmacy allows pharmacist and pharmacy techs an opportunity to learn new skills and improve existing skills. While many telepharmacy services are also provided in person, pharmacy professionals may be exposed to new services through their telepharmacy work. For example, statistics show that only 50-60% of patients receive post-discharge medication reconciliation (MRP) despite its proven benefits at averting preventable readmissions. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs that become telepharmacists may find themselves performing MRP for the first time or much more frequently.
There is also the matter of learning how to effectively provide pharmacy services when not physically in front of a patient. The virtual care experience is quite different from the in-person experience. Telepharmacists learn how to become better communicators and improve how they show empathy since non-video interactions eliminate the ability to use body language and eye contact to get points across and show emotion. Telepharmacists also learn how to be better listeners since audio communications eliminate the ability to pick up on physical cues from patients.
Video interactions have their own dynamics. Telepharmacists learn how to effectively listen and look into the camera when speaking with a patient and/or caregiver. With more services going virtual, developing or honing these skills will prove valuable in the short and long term. Virtual experiences should also help with improving in-person interactions.
Interested in Becoming a Telepharmacist?
If this blog has further motivated you to pursue work as a telepharmacist, reach out to us. Cureatr is looking for board certified pharmacists and pharmacy techs interested in opportunities to deliver telepharmacy services. Contact us or check out our open positions here to learn more!