Patient-facing pharmacies: Technology for enhanced engagement

With physician shortages in both primary and specialty care, doctors can be tough to access. We’ve all had that experience—many of us, multiple times. Pharmacists, on the other hand, play a key role in care delivery as patients can walk right up to the counter with a question without an appointment. They are the most accessible health care providers, with 93% of Americans living within five miles of a community pharmacy. These face-to-face communications with local pharmacists are particularly important today as online pharmacies target consumers with individualized prescription and non-prescription medication delivery. But how well are pharmacists equipped to address this need for meaningful interactions with patients?

There’s a lot of pressure on pharmacies to fill prescriptions quickly and serve a high volume of patients. Pharmacists also must mitigate compliance and fraud risks to maintain safe prescribing practices. These are tall orders, especially when they’re tasked with maintaining open lines of communication with all patients — specially fragile and chronic-care ones — in daily operations.

The industry must move toward enabling pharmacists to deliver enhanced engagement with patients, and technology innovations in the pharmacy workflow and management can go a long way to making this happen. For example, contributory databases can facilitate information sharing for a broader view of patient cases; lifestyle data analytics can offer unique insights about patient behavior and adherence; and portals can drive patients to make proactive health decisions and encourage deeper communication with pharmacists and other providers.

In the following sections we will look at three important ways that technology can help pharmacists deliver a more personalized level of care without jeopardizing their efficiency.

Increase medication adherence
Medication non-adherence is a big problem in care management and it is a drain on our healthcare system, leading to increased utilization, preventable hospitalizations and development of comorbidities. Between $100 and $300 billion of avoidable healthcare costs have been attributed to nonadherence annually.4

Pharmacists can help increase medication adherence by paying special attention to patients who are most at risk for non-adherence. It is known that social determinants of health (SDOH) – the conditions in which people are born, live work and age – account for as much as 80 percent of patients’ health status.5

The simple question most commonly asked across the counter: “Any questions about this medication?” will not facilitate a fruitful dialogue.

Technology integrating SDOH data into the patient profile can help pharmacists determine relevant information about patient challenges to adherence and address both personal and disease-specific concerns in an individualized manner.

By asking open-ended questions with a listening ear, pharmacists can try to identify problems the patient may face. For example, a study found that cost-related non-adherence was common in diabetics: half of all diabetes patients were under financial stress, and 20 percent reported financial insecurity with healthcare and food.6

The SDOH impact here is clear, often bringing complications to chronically ill patients that hasten standard disease progression. In this case, the pharmacist could use this information to approach the prescribing physician about lower cost alternatives. Similarly, by talking with the patient, the pharmacist may determine he lacks a reliable transportation means to pick up his medication. The pharmacist could help schedule a ride-share or other method for the following month.

Share prescribing history for better care
One of the biggest challenges pharmacists face is incomplete access to patient prescribing history. Without the transparency of data about medications, a pharmacist does not have the “big picture” regarding patient health and adherence. Especially in cases of controlled substances, the pharmacy industry must prioritize the sharing of data for patient safety. Think of the value: the system would flag if the patient had previously been prescribed opioids, and more specifically, if the patient filled a script very recently at another retail chain.

With a true contributory database, pharmacists would get a much broader, more holistic view of the patient enabling them to provide better patient care. The pharmacist can engage the patient about how this encounter on the healthcare journey fits into the entire spectrum of care. With increased patient understanding, all care providers can expect improved outcomes.

Identifying the patient correctly
When a pharmacist consults with a patient about a prescription, he or she is often looking at a patient record—or a group of records— that may be missing vital pieces of information, such as a middle name. At the same time, the record may be filled with misspellings, demographic errors, or duplicates due to lack of standardization between healthcare systems and data entry mistakes. There can be hundreds of patients with similar names and birthdates in electronic medical record systems. Without an updated and accurate look at the right patient’s complete and correct medical history, the pharmacist cannot, with confidence, consult on the case.

Accurate patient identification — and more specifically, identity management — is at the very heart of patient care and requires innovative approaches to handle correctly and efficiently. To ensure safe prescribing and care, patient records need to be cleansed, duplicates removed, and missing pieces of information filled in. Mismatched files along the entire care continuum only open the door for medical errors that can have devastating consequences. Introducing a universal patient identifier will help increase sharing of patient data, improve patient record linking between disparate data sources and prevent medical errors.

Patients expect identity accuracy and integrity of their records at every pharmacy interaction; they are healthcare consumers with a sea of options and a list of expectations for both their clinical and customer experiences. They want fast and convenient access to their own correct and complete medical data and to the providers’ service options.

That means that top-notch provision of care includes not only meeting clinical demand, but also meeting the demand for technology solutions that facilitate access and accurate records matching. By implementing such technology tools strategically into the workflow, pharmacists make themselves more available to patients. By accurately identifying patients and listening to and understanding their difficulties, pharmacists provide help that makes a real difference in people’s lives. This is how successful pharmacies stand out from the crowd.

Craig Ford is vice president of the Pharmacy Market at LexisNexis Risk Solutions