Using Digital Technology to Improve Your Pharmacy

August 23, 2018
CEO, Shital Parik.

Community pharmacists can use digital technology to create personalised healthcare services tailored to the individual patient. Shital Mars explains…

The healthcare industry boasts some of the most advanced technologies, such as MRI machines, 3D fetal imaging, laser guided cancer treatments, just to name a few.

Yet, for all its technological fortitude, it has been one of the slowest industries to adapt and integrate in the digital age. Community pharmacies and small-scale physician practices languish well behind the times in adopting even the simplest of digital developments.

The impetus to change is upon us as we understand that patient engagement is a key contributing factor to lowering healthcare costs and preventing adverse health events.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 125,000 people die in the US every year because of non-adherence and it costs the system a shocking $100-300 billion a year. In response to this epidemic, digital pharmacies have a unique chance to utilise digital technology to engage the patient and bring about meaningful change in their wellbeing.

They stand in a distinct position due to the proximity of their relationship to the community, caregivers and patients themselves. For many patients, pharmacies are often the single consistent point of healthcare services amidst a slew of specialists.

To take advantage of their distinctive role in the healthcare ecosystem, community pharmacies must develop and promote the use of digital technologies like social media, interactive websites/ mobile apps, electronic health records (EHR) and even more innovative solutions to empower the patient and achieve results.

Active social media pages should be used to deliver health-conscious, community-focused news and information to patients. According to a recent Insights Report from the NEJM Catalyst, 99% of individuals surveyed acknowledge that social networks are potentially useful in health care delivery.

These social networks can be used to spread information about influenza vaccines, lice treatments, programmes for co-pay assistance and news that effects day-to-day living in a community.

For instance, community pharmacies serving older populations can use social media to raise awareness about Medicare enrollment, high risk medications, and mobility aids. Specialty pharmacies can provide case management linkage and access to prescription assistance programmes for cancer medications or HIV/AIDS treatment.

Even a simple social media presence can position a community pharmacy as the pharmacological expert in matters as simple as which OTC pain medication to use or how to treat a bug bite or sun burn.

What matters is using digital means to build credibility and ultimately become a vital resource given that care is driven more and more by the patient and delivered at home.

Resources are limited in the community pharmacy space but some pharmacies are taking to developing ways to interact with their patients through their own website or mobile applications.

These platforms are great for delivering a wealth of information and content relevant to patients and provide an opportunity for pharmacies to gather patient data to tailor specific solutions.

For instance, local pharmacies can offer incentives for patients to share information like discount programs for achieving health and fitness goals, sobriety, or smoking cessation. These applications can provide opportunities for patients to indicate areas of interest or specific challenges, which the pharmacy can then use to customize solutions and deliver personalised care.

The transition to EHRs is a fascinating phenomenon in the medical field yet for most pharmacies, big and small, there is no similar unified platform to document patient encounters. Statistics from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT show that, overall, 32% of individuals who went to the doctors in the past year reported experiencing a gap in information exchange.

Thankfully, some companies have recently launched limited EHR capability which will allow subscribed pharmacies to enter information from patient encounters in the database. This includes everything from a medication reconciliation, consultation notes, allergies, provider names, and more.

This portal would even allow pharmacies to make medication recommendations based on diagnosis codes and specific health information provided by the patient during the encounter.

One of the most important benefits these databases provide is the option to discuss and make pain management recommendations that would include an analysis of a current pain management regimen.

The value in this and other tools is the ability to provide best practice recommendations, especially as it pertains to prevention or intervention of an ineffective opioid therapy. This encounter record could then be stored and used for medication therapy management or even printed and submitted to the patient’s primary doctor for review.

Another innovative solution is the idea of digital interactive pharmacy kiosks that allow patients to converse in real-time through a live-stream video feed with a pharmacy technician or pharmacist.

The idea behind the technology is to provide more comprehensive medication reconciliation, consultation and coaching in places where patients are comfortable accessing healthcare. This would allow doctors to defer medication review of their prescriptions to the pharmacy, which has special expertise in this area, and free up time for diagnosis and care centered dialogue.

These kiosks would be placed in clinics, hospitals, physician practices, and locations of convenience where patients can communicate their medication struggles with a pharmacist, provide insurance information and submit prescriptions.

This programme will operate through a HIPAA-secured platform and receive the personalised information that face-to-face interaction is best for.

There are many ways to take advantage of today’s digital technologies and use them to engage with patients and empower them to understand their healthcare situation and treatment options.

Community pharmacies are front-line patient advocates and integral hubs of care and medication knowledge. What they need to do is own their role in the community and make the appropriate technological advances.

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