The World Speaks: The potential promise of embracing telehealth tools

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The World Speaks: The potential promise of embracing telehealth tools

By Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner - 05/03/2019
As technology continues to transform the way people live and how we access different goods and services, healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, are seeing firsthand the impact this transformation is having on patients’ expectations on how they access healthcare services and how those services are delivered.

Technology allows for nearly instant access to a variety of information, goods and services. Patients can get advice from healthcare experts through interactive websites and mobile apps, or arrange for delivery of their medications straight to their door with a click of a button. In some instances, these advances help patients access healthcare experts by phone or through the use of telehealth tools.

These advances call for a transformation of the way in which we as pharmacists have traditionally delivered pharmacy services, with a particular emphasis on community pharmacy. Patients want alternative approaches. They no longer are content to drive to their local community pharmacy and wait in line to obtain their medications, immunizations or other pharmacy services.

While this technological revolution poses some challenges to our current business model, I believe it also offers numerous opportunities for the pharmacy profession to adjust the ways in which we provide care and deliver services, including medication therapy management, which requires a clinical interaction between the patient and pharmacist, as well as the development of a pharmacist-patient relationship built on mutual trust and collaboration.

So, the question at hand is: Are we as pharmacists ready to embrace technology and transform the delivery of pharmacy services to seize this opportunity?

We are starting to see the rapid emergence of telehealth pharmacy services that aim to address patients’ evolving needs. For example, we can look to Amazon’s recent decision to enter the pharmacy space, which has resulted in much speculation around the industry. Patients want and demand easy and instant access to services and medications. We are called to meet patients where they are, instead of requiring that they come to us. We must transform our profession to better integrate into a new paradigm — the pharmacist on demand.

The pharmacist on demand is one that easily can be incorporated into virtual healthcare teams; one to whom patient data is easily and privately accessible, whether from our workplace computer or the tablet that travels with us from our home to our office, or to the call center. One that is easily accessible to a patient no matter where he or she is.

Are we prepared for this new reality? What skills will pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy personnel require to meet the needs of these emerging models? Are employers and pharmacy schools actively preparing pharmacists and student pharmacists for this new future?

At the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, we are pioneering the development of new models of care, with the ultimate goal of answering some of these questions. Through our Pharmacy e-Health Center, the school of pharmacy is identifying the knowledge and skills needed to effectively deliver pharmacy services through telehealth, and training the next generation of practicing pharmacists in this emerging field. The accolades we have received from health systems, patients and student pharmacists are early indicators of the extraordinary need for telehealth services in today’s market. In fact, preliminary data even indicates that positive patient outcomes and cost savings can be achieved when care is delivered using telehealth technologies, such as those available through our Pharmacy e-Health Center.

Could telehealth be the answer to increasing patient access to pharmacy services and overcoming the challenges to educating patients about the clinical services we provide? As we continue to work to get patients to accept, pay for and engage in many of our services, perhaps the answer lies in these technological advances. But, is this the transformation and necessary evolution of pharmacy services that we need? While many pharmacists, healthcare systems, insurance companies and other innovative organizations are embracing telehealth models, I ask: Are we moving too slowly? When will it become mainstream?

Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner, associate dean for clinical services and practice transformation and executive director at the Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore.