By Wayne Caverly
Telepharmacy is the use of technology to provide pharmacy-related value. With this description, a call from your pharmacy to a patient to discuss his or her medications is a form of telepharmacy, something all pharmacists have been doing since they started practising.
Most pharmacists are blind to the idea that using telepharmacy can make them more money, make better use of existing resources, and allow them to expand their services to areas they have not previously considered.
The US Navy had a major problem with remoteness. 250 ships at sea and only two pharmacists to serve all of them. So too North Dakota (the third least populous and the fourth least densely populated of the 50 United States) was struggling with the need to provide pharmaceutical services to remote communities. The introduction of telepharmacy in the late 1990s dealt with both these American issues.
As the second largest country in the world, and with a population density of 3.5 people per square kilometre, Canada is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, so we share the US Navy and North Dakota’s issues with providing pharmaceutical services where they are needed.
Canada, too, turned to telepharmacy to solve some of these issues, beginning with a Cranbrook, BC hospital which, in June 2003, installed a telepharmacy system to assist a hospital in a nearby town that was unable to hire a pharmacist.
According to the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia:
“Telepharmacy is the delivery of traditional pharmacy services, which includes dispensing of medications and providing patient counselling, via telecommunications to patients in underserved rural and/or remote communities where they may not have local access to a pharmacist.
A pharmacy technician at the remote site prepares the prescription drug for dispensing by the pharmacist, and the pharmacist at the central site reviews the patient’s profile and performs the clinical check of the medication for appropriateness, as well as communicating face-to-face with patients for medication counseling through real-time audio-video conferencing technology.
Although a remote site is operated by a pharmacy technician without a pharmacist physically on-site, the pharmacist at the central site directly supervises all activities at the remote site through the use of audio video conferencing technology.”
Here are some of the ways Canadian pharmacists can use telepharmacy to improve their patient care and their bottom lines:
- #1 Open a location previously considered too remote to justify a pharmacy.
- #2 Provide fee-for-service in-home or in-medical facility med-reviews and counselling sessions.
- #3 Add a disease state specialist to be shared among a number of pharmacies.
- # 4 Make more productive use of professional staff in low volume pharmacies while reducing stress and medication errors in high volume facilities.
- # 5 Ease the impact of staff shortages caused by vacation and sick time.
You no longer have the opportunity to be the first in Canada to embrace telepharmacy, but I caution you not to wait to be the last organization to capitalize on this important development in healthcare technology whose time has come.
Wayne Caverly is the president of Waverly Pharmacy Solutions.