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Using telehealth to improve patient access to care


PricewaterhouseCooper’s Health Research institute, in its look at the biggest industry issues of 2016, found that 60% of patients would be willing to use their mobile device for a physician visit. The increased interest in telehealth comes as Mordor Intelligence projects the industry will be worth more than $34 billion by 2020, and as chains and independents look to telehealth solutions to connect patients to providers and pharmacy services in rural or underserved areas.

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Memphis, Tenn.-based Fred’s Pharmacy has sought to build increased access around its brick-and-mortar locations, unveiling TelehealthONE kiosks in 10 locations in Mississippi, where most of the population lives within 15 miles of a Fred’s store. Patients can go to a Fred’s pharmacy and use the kiosk — located in a set-aside space — to connect with a nurse practitioner for a telehealth appointment.

CVS Health looked to telehealth at the end of 2015, partnering with Teladoc, American Well and Doctor On Demand to pilot telehealth physicians’ visits through its digital properties and creating a collaborative relationship between the telehealth companies, patients and MinuteClnic locations, allowing providers to send patients being seen via telehealth to clinic locations for tests to confirm diagnoses.

“We’re doing a lot of things in this space, and with our continuing telehealth expansion, we’re going to continue to explore all the avenues for delivering care to patients in ways that are most convenient and most accessible to them,” Minute-Clinic VP medical operations Tobias Barker told attendees of a Drug Store News/Convenient Care Association webinar held in February.

As part of that expansion, in April MinuteClinic — in partnership with American Well and the Cleveland Clinic — announced that it would be offering American Well’s technology and services to bring telehealth visits with physicians to MinuteClinic patients in Ohio and West Virginia.

While much focus around telehealth has been on providing access to doctors via pharmacy, many independent pharmacies are looking to telepharmacy as a way to provide services to patients in rural areas.

One of the companies that has been growing the field is Iowa City, Iowa-based Telepharm, which provides local pharmacies with the tools to open a telepharmacy staffed by technicians who submit prescription images for verification by a remote pharmacist and dispense the medication on-site. Other pharmacy technology companies, among them Script-Pro, offer a telepharmacy solution for pharmacy owners.

Beyond offering patients in underserved areas more access to pharmacists and pharmacy services, telepharmacy also can help pharmacists improve their workflow and give them time to provide more clinical services to their patients.

“Pharmacists are trained to do so much more than simply verify prescriptions behind the counter,” Telepharm’s marketing communications coordinator Zach Schladetzky wrote on the company’s blog in June. “It’s time we implement a workflow that enables pharmacists to perform at the peak of their abilities to ensure we’re offering patients the best care possible.”

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