Telepharmacy, sometimes referred to as "remote pharmacy," is receiving increased attention these days like other telehealth disciplines. In the early days of the pandemic, stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders forced healthcare providers to turn to virtual care to help ensure patients would still receive timely services to support health and wellness.
Even as those orders were lifted, the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 virus and the risks of exposure to it — which are elevated for large portions of the population — have kept telehealth in the spotlight. The volume of telehealth-related medical claims is on a bit of a decline, but it was still up nearly 6,000% in May 2020 compared to May 2019, leading Healthcare Dive to confidently conclude that, "… telehealth will represent a significant share of healthcare services in the United States for the foreseeable future."
While telepharmacy is far from a new concept (the idea of remote pharmacy dates back about 20 years), we are thrilled to see that it is becoming more widely understood, appreciated, and embraced. And there's a good reason why: Quite simply, telepharmacy greatly enhances care for patients.
Telepharmacy: 6 Ways Remote Pharmacy Adds Value
Let's dive into that sentiment further by examining six ways telepharmacy is adding value for patients in our healthcare delivery system.
1. Increased access to pharmacists
One of the most significant — and frequently cited — ways that telepharmacy brings value to patients is by increasing access to pharmacy operations and services. These include drug review and monitoring, dispensing, chronic care management, medication therapy management, patient assessment and counseling, clinical consultation, outcomes assessment, decision support, and general medication information.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes about telehealth, "Remote access to healthcare services may increase participation for those who are medically or socially vulnerable or who do not have ready access to providers. Remote access can also help preserve the patient-provider /pharmacist relationship at times when an in-person visit is not practical or feasible," as has been the case for many patients during the health crisis.
2. Expanded access to services
Like any other profession, those working in pharmacy services have varying levels of expertise and training or different skill sets, and the skill set a patient may need may not be available at their local pharmacy.
With telepharmacy, a patient can be connected with a pharmacy professional in the best position to support the patient's needs. If a telepharmacist is not a strong fit for a patient, whether due to training or other factors (e.g., language), finding an alternative professional who can better help a patient may prove to be faster and more effective when options are not limited by a physical (brick and mortar) location or timing of a visit to a pharmacy.
3. More timely access to pharmacists and services
Time represents a significant barrier for the delivery of remote pharmacy services. There's the time required to travel to and from a pharmacy, which can be significant for some consumers depending upon where they live and their access to transportation. There's the time required to travel back to the pharmacy if a service requires multiple or ongoing visits. There's also the time required to wait at the pharmacy for services. Finding this time can prove challenging, especially as the minutes and number of trips add up.
With telepharmacy, travel and waiting time is essentially eliminated since there is no need to physically appear at the pharmacy. The only requirement is having access to a phone or Internet connection, if the service will be provided over video. By reducing the amount of time required to receive pharmacy services down to the bare minimum (i.e., the providing and receiving of the services), patients are likely to be more inclined to take advantage of the telepharmacy services available to them.
4. Reduced costs
As Patient Engagement HIT notes, "Numerous studies have indicated that drug costs serve as the biggest barrier to medication adherence." When patients need to travel to receive remote pharmacy services, they can incur a wide range of expenses, including gas; tolls; public transportation costs; taxi/rideshare expenses; and baby or pet sitting. If receiving services requires time off from work, the costs build up even further. With telepharmacy, the only costs are those associated with the actual services received (assuming that a patient did not purchase a communication device for the purpose of accessing telepharmacy services).
As an added bonus, telepharmacy has been shown to deliver significant savings to providers as well.
5. Improved Satisfaction
There have been a number of studies around telepharmacy and they often come to a shared conclusion: patients like it! As one study published in the Journal of Pharmacy Technology notes, "Patient assessment of the telepharmacy indicated high degrees of satisfaction with accessibility, service, and patient counseling."
This isn't surprising when you consider the value telepharmacy provides to patients, as described above. What makes patient satisfaction so important? As an article in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes notes, satisfied patients are more likely to:
- comply with treatment;
- take an active role in their own care;
- continue using medical care services and stay within a health provider; and
- maintain a specific system.
All of which leads us to the final value of telepharmacy that we'll discuss in this blog, which is…
6. Better health and outcomes
Combine everything we've covered — improved access to pharmacists, expanded access to pharmacy services, reduced time and expenses associated with receiving services, and higher satisfaction with services — and the result for patients is improved health and overall outcomes. Telepharmacy ultimately helps address many of the barriers to medication adherence. That's important when one considers that the CDC estimates non-adherence is the cause of 30-50% of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths per year in the United States.
The value of telepharmacy doesn't stop there. It's also a viable option for providing medication management services in a way that delivers across-the-board benefits. Learn more about the benefits of telepharmacy on improvement medication management by watching this Cureatr webinar recording.