Pharmacies accelerate use of healthcare IT during COVID-19

COVID-19 has disrupted healthcare patterns and changed how and where patients receive care. Pharmacists have risen to the challenge and become a primary point of care in providing such enhanced services as vaccine administration, COVID testing and much more. Pharmacies were already pushing for enhanced health IT tools, and COVID-19 accelerated the need for IT innovation even more. Here are a few ways pharmacies are leveraging technology in response to the pandemic and stepping up to meet patient needs.

Resolving drug therapy problems and managing drug shortages
Pharmacists have always been on the front lines, and their time is more precious than ever as they cope with demands from the pandemic. That’s why having these healthcare professionals spend time on hold or waiting for faxes to come through to resolve administrative issues related to drug therapy problems is so inefficient. Pharmacies have been using electronic prescribing for nearly two decades, but more opportunities to improve efficiency exist. For example, the RxChange transaction can save time and replace inefficient manual processes, including alerting prescribers when a therapeutic interchange might be beneficial, a prescription needs clarification, or a medication is out of stock or on shortage. Over 1 million prescribers now send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, and RxChange can help resolve issues safely and in a fraction of the time, thereby allowing pharmacists to focus on patient care. 

Promoting cost transparency 
High prescription costs have always been a threat to medication adherence — and the problem is only getting worse. In a PwC survey from May, nearly a quarter of people shared that they were going to modify medication spending because of financial issues from COVID-19. But medication affordability can be a problematic issue for pharmacies to address, mainly because of manual processes that impede ready access to cost information when needed. 

Fortunately, pharmacies are increasingly utilizing benefits-based prescription price transparency tools that enable them to quickly access therapeutic alternatives, real-time prescription costs and coverage details — all within their electronic workflow.

As an independent pharmacist from Illinois recently shared, “[Real-time prescription benefit] saves a ton of time and resources for our staff, from processing prescriptions then reversing them, wasting supplies, returning meds to stock … [it’s] so much more efficient.”

Streamlining the specialty prescribing process
Patients with challenging chronic conditions need their medication fast, yet obtaining these medications isn’t always easy. According to a survey of specialty pharmacists that Surescripts commissioned in April, specialty prescriptions can take as many as four days to fill, and delays of seven days or more were not uncommon. In the same survey, two-thirds of specialty pharmacists shared that administrative tasks were getting in the way of patient care, and prior authorizations were the leading cause of the delays. 

Despite these barriers, specialty pharmacies are working overtime to ensure patient therapy is not interrupted because of COVID-19 by replacing a manual process with a streamlined, electronic workflow. Specialty pharmacies now can initiate a patient search, gather clinical information and conduct the prior authorization all without leaving their electronic workflow, which helps patients get on their treatment journeys faster. 

Looking Ahead
By accelerating health IT use in pharmacies, these advancements will help pharmacy staff as they are increasingly recognized as essential healthcare resources and critical members of a patient’s care team during the COVID-19 pandemic. By leveraging new technologies, pharmacies can improve workflow efficiencies that enable pharmacists to work at the top of their license, and provide expanded patient services and optimal patient care amidst all of these changes and beyond. 


Tom Skelton is the CEO of Surescripts. 

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