The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed telehealth seemingly overnight. A large majority of U.S. consumers now believe telehealth has become "an indispensable part of the healthcare system," according to the results of a survey conducted by The Harris Poll. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of consumers said they plan to use telehealth more after the health crisis, and more than three out of every four said COVID-19 has demonstrated a need for more telehealth options. Yet it is important to remember that it wasn't long ago that telehealth was an infrequently used and not widely understood mechanism for delivering health-related services. The results of a consumer survey conducted by J.D. Power in fall 2019 indicated that only 10% of healthcare consumers were using telehealth services and 66% were unaware of whether telehealth was available to them.
While more patients are undoubtedly better informed about telehealth today, one can argue that it is still somewhat in its infancy, with most consumers likely lacking a strong understanding of the concept and its associated disciplines, which includes telepharmacy. As such, if your organization plans to offer telepharmacy services, it is imperative to have a plan for how you will effectively define telepharmacy to patients in order to encourage a level of buy-in that ultimately leads to strong patient engagement and helps maximize the benefits of telepharmacy.
6 Key Points to Cover in Your Telepharmacy Definition
When working to address how you will define telepharmacy to patients, cover the following six points.
1. What is telepharmacy?
It is safe to assume that most of your patients have never heard of telepharmacy. While telepharmacy services have been used for about two decades to help improve access to pharmacy services, adoption of telepharmacy has historically been slow, largely due to regulatory and reimbursement obstacles. An important point to cover early in how you define telepharmacy to patients is providing a definition for telepharmacy.
One of the more frequently cited definitions of the practice of telepharmacy comes from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy's Model Pharmacy Practice Act: "… the provision of pharmacist care by registered pharmacies and pharmacists located within U.S. jurisdictions through the use of telecommunications or other technologies to patients or their agents at distances that are located within U.S. jurisdictions."
For a consumer-facing definition, we recommend wording that will be easier for more of your patients to understand. For example, you could definite telepharmacy as follows: "Telepharmacy is the use of technology to deliver pharmacy services to patients located at a distance." Some of these services can include comprehensive medication management (CMM), comprehensive medication reviews (CMRs), disease-specific CMM and counseling, and all other medication-related assessments and interventions. A simplified definition will help provide your patients with a foundation for comprehending telepharmacy.
2. Technology used to deliver telepharmacy
To provide telepharmacy services, pharmacists use telecommunications. The type of telecommunications used can vary from program to program. When defining telepharmacy and describing your program, discuss the types of telecommunications technologies you use to provide services.
This is particularly important if you intend to deliver any telepharmacy services using technology other than a phone. While patients are generally comfortable speaking on a telephone, many may not be comfortable and/or familiar with other audio and video platforms. These may include HIPAA-compliant communication solutions such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom for Healthcare, GoToMeeting, and Amazon Chime.
In addition to identifying what solutions you use to deliver telepharmacy services, providing instructions to help patients install and set up these solutions can help reduce the number of questions asked by patients when scheduling and initiating a telepharmacy session.
3. Services available via telepharmacy
Do not overlook the importance of identifying the services available through your telepharmacy program. Many consumers think of pharmacists only as dispensers of medications and may be surprised to learn that pharmacists provide so many other valuable services. Common telepharmacy services include the following:
- Drug review and monitoring
- Drug information
- Medication dispensing
- Medication therapy management
- Patient assessment and counseling
- Compounding medication verification
- Decision support
Include only those services available through your telepharmacy. Providing a short description of each service will help patients better understand what they can request for and expect from a telepharmacy session.
4. Providers of telepharmacy services
Did you know that pharmacists are ranked among the highest professions for honesty and ethics? Gallup's most recent annual poll puts pharmacists only behind nurses, engineers, and medical doctors. Pharmacists have been ranked near the top of the list for several years running.
When defining telepharmacy, make it clear to patients that your telepharmacy services are provided by registered pharmacists who possess similar training, experience, and knowledge of the professionals they have learned to trust during in-person visits to pharmacies. This may help alleviate concerns that remote pharmacy services may be provided by less qualified individuals, thus leading to a lower quality of services.
Consider including photos, bios, and even videos of those pharmacists who will be providing telepharmacy services. This can help create a more personal connection between patients and your telepharmacists before telepharmacy sessions begin.
5. Value of telepharmacy
Patients who are unfamiliar with telepharmacy or have yet to personally participate in a telepharmacy session may have doubts about whether a telepharmacy experience can match that of an in-person experience. Such concerns are one of the most significant barriers to getting patients to embrace telehealth. As a Sykes consumer survey found, "When asked if people get comparable healthcare through telehealth as they do for in-person visits, about one-third of respondents say that they don't believe it's possible for comparable telehealth care."
To help address this concern, explain the value of telepharmacy to your patients. This is a significant aspect of defining telepharmacy and your program. To learn about six ways telepharmacy is adding value for patients, read this blog.
One key value you may want to highlight is the fact that pharmacists working in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy only have insights into the prescriptions filled at that pharmacy/chain. Considering many patients access and fill prescriptions at multiple pharmacies (e.g., near home, near work, via online services), this can lead to blind spots in a patient's medication regimen. Telepharmacists, specifically those leveraging Cureatr's Meds 360°, access a complete view of a patient's medications, irrespective of the filling pharmacy. This information greatly helps a pharmacist optimize a patient's medication regimen and avoid potential adverse events caused by said blind spots.
6. Patient experiences with telepharmacy
Once your telepharmacy program is up, running, and serving patients, consider requesting testimonials from some of your patients about their telepharmacy experience. Including positive words about telepharmacy and telepharmacy services can help patients envision better how telepharmacy can personally improve their health and wellness. In addition, the words of other patients may serve to fill in some knowledge gaps in how patients understand and define telepharmacy in their own minds.