Call it the year of the pharmacist.
Never have pharmacists’ roles been more expansive, more complex or more visible to patients. While the pandemic pummeled numerous businesses, pharmacies thrived by stepping up and filling the void.
While continuing to face mounting pressures from crushing DIR fees, low reimbursement and the requirement to quickly fill a high volume of prescriptions, pharmacists also are providing a host of clinical services, including COVID-19 testing, immunizations, point-of-care testing, medication therapy counseling, preventive care and prescribing medications in many states where they recently have been granted authorization.
When asked, automation and technology companies concur that amid the pandemic, patients have become increasingly reliant on pharmacists to provide a vast array of clinical services, even as pharmacists have been under increased pressure to be more efficient.
Determined to lighten pharmacists’ workload so they can focus more on patients, technology and automation companies are amplifying their products and services.
Many technology companies are helping pharmacies address the critical responsibility of adherence, which has become more challenging for pharmacists amid the pandemic.
For example, Irving, Texas-based McKesson stepped up to the plate with its Adherence Performance Solution and Clinical Programs Solution to help pharmacies identify non-adherent patients and patients at risk of becoming non-adherent. The APSCP is built into the workflow of its EnterpriseRx pharmacy management system.
John Beardsley, McKesson senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development, said that the solution provides a means to document and manage patient care. It also alerts the pharmacist to have meaningful counseling sessions to evaluate reasons for nonadherence as well as opportunities to improve patient outcomes.
An important component of patient adherence initiatives is ensuring that patients refill their prescriptions, and it’s crucial that it’s easy for them to get their refills.
To accomplish this, AmerisourceBergen created My GNP mobile app, which allows patients to refill their prescriptions with ease and have them sent directly to their local Good Neighbor Pharmacy. “Mobile app integration has and will continue to remain essential for pharmacies and patients,” Houston said.
For patients who may not have smartphones or who prefer texting, AmerisourceBergen offers its community pharmacies text message support for refill reminders.
A Shot in the Arm
As with so many aspects of pharmacists’ daily work, administering the COVID-19 vaccines entails the completion of paperwork and pharmacy technology companies have solutions to shave time off this task, as well as to make sure patients are vaccinated.
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For example, Phoenix-based STChealth’s Pharmacy Clinical Services platform empowers clinicians to query immunization registries for up-to-date patient immunization histories at the point of care. This automated clinical decision support enables pharmacies to close gaps in care for patients who are past due for routine immunizations. After an immunization has been administered to a patient, STChealth’s platform automatically sends data to the appropriate public health registries to ensure compliance with vaccine reporting requirements.
“Technology enables us to build solutions that automate workflows for clinicians. This is incredibly important as the scope of practice for pharmacies continues to expand,” said Billy Chow, chief pharmacy officer at STChealth. “Any amount of time you can give back to a clinician results in more time for patient care and ultimately benefits the pharmacy-patient relationship.”
Arlington, Va.-based Surescripts also is relieving pharmacists from some of the tasks associated with administering vaccines.
Larry King, Surescripts manager of clinical informatics, said that Surescripts Clinical Direct Messaging helps pharmacies electronically send immunization notifications and other reporting to prescribers as well as to federal and state authorities.
“Pharmacists used Surescripts Clinical Direct Messaging to send COVID-19 vaccine information to primary care providers, eliminating the need to share this information via paper forms, fax machines and phone calls,” said King, noting that since December 2020, pharmacies across the country have used this solution to share more than 8 million COVID-19 immunization notifications to primary care providers.
Freeing up pharmacists from the burdensome task of obtaining prior authorizations also is beneficial in helping them provide better patient care. “Fortunately, increased use of Electronic Prior Authorization among prescribers will reduce callbacks and faxes to pharmacists, keeping them in their electronic workflow and helping them stay focused on counseling patients,” King said.
“This really helps support reducing regulatory risk and increase the percentage of paid prescription claims, but it also benefits the pharmacist because it adds efficiencies to the dispensing workflow and gives them opportunities to provide additional patient care services,” Hertzler said.
Embedded into the pharmacy dispensing system workflow, VerifyRx works behind the scenes to check the licensure and sanctions of prescribers to ensure compliance with regulations.
“Pharmacy transactions are processed in milliseconds and workflow is only interrupted when a transaction fails one or more of the configured validations,” Hertzler said. “This one piece of technology affords the pharmacist time to work with their patients to counsel them, educate them and support their ongoing well-being. “
Adheris Health, a MedAdvisor company in Burlington, Mass., also is providing pharmacists with a patient adherence solution that focuses on enabling patient engagement.
The company’s latest innovation, THRiV, is an intelligent patient engagement platform that uses predictive analytics and the latest digital solutions to further support pharmacy staff to empower patients to live their healthiest lives.
“It is essential to support patients even when staff time and resources are short,” said Jim Rotsart, executive vice president of client services at Adheris Health. “The best way to do this is to provide patients with the information they need in supplemental channels.”
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Adheris Health also has had success in offering solutions that provide the important education and resources to help patients successfully start and stay on therapy via a multichannel approach — at the pharmacy counter, through direct mail and in text messages.
“This reduces the amount of information the pharmacy staff needs to provide while still being available for more in-depth questions,” Rotsart said.
Helping pharmacists educate patients also is a focus of AmerisourceBergen. “Another area pharmacists have played a huge role in over the last 19 months is educating patients about COVID-19 and vaccines,” Houston said.
GNP developed digital marketing tools and custom resources to assist community pharmacists with the dissemination of key information to their communities so they can focus more on their patients.
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“At no time has the critical role of a pharmacist been more evident than now, and Good Neighbor Pharmacy is proud to be the trusted partner of countless community pharmacies across the United States,” Houston said.
Helping pharmacists educate patients is the bailiwick of Surescripts as well. “The pandemic also changed pharmacists’ and patients’ relationships,” King said. He cited a recent Surescripts survey, which showed that over the past 18 months, 68% of pharmacists reported receiving more questions from patients related to general health than medications (56%). “Surescripts’ new Real-Time Prescription Benefit for Pharmacy can help pharmacists proactively address questions and cost concerns, and help improve medication adherence for patients,” he said.