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    Connected: Telepharmacy unites the team

    Telepharmacy unites the team

    It's 3:00 a.m. A 7-year-old with an elevated fever is brought to the emergency room of a Midwestern hospital by his parents. The emergency room physician performs an evaluation and writes several medication orders. But this particular hospital does not have 24/7 pharmacy coverage. Not to worry. A certified pharmacist working at a remote location reviews the orders and the patient's electronic medication record online, and verifies that everything is accurate from a pharmacy perspective. A question about the dosing occurs to the ER doctor and he consults with the pharmacist via a video/audio link.

    That scenario, an illustration of how telehealth and telepharmacy are altering the healthcare landscape, plays out thousands of times every day.

    See also: Telepharmacy pulls hospital through storm

    And it’s not just in the hospital setting that telehealth and telepharmacy are making an impact. Telehealth and telepharmacy originated in rural areas where there isn't a community pharmacy for miles. Patients in those regions are able to get their prescriptions verified by a pharmacist only through the use of technology (Table 1).

    At its core, telehealth delivers healthcare services and information by means of a variety of telecommunications technologies. Telepharmacy, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), is defined as the provision of pharmacist care from a distance to patients through the use of telecommunications and other technologies.

    Data from the National Conference of State Legislators indicate that the use of telehealth services is expected to increase from 250,000 patients in 2013 to 3.2 million by 2018. In addition, figures from the Center for Connected Health Policy reveal that more than 200 telehealth-related bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015.

    Telepharmacy services

    Convenience and access

    Edward RickertEdward RickertThose statistics come as no surprise to Edward Rickert, RPh, JD, a partner at Quarles & Brady, a national law firm with offices across the country that specializes in pharmacy law.

    One of the primary drivers of telehealth and telepharmacy is the fact that people like convenience and they are used to getting things quickly and easily, said Rickert, citing the example of automated banking.

     "Society as a whole is transitioning over to this idea," said Rickert. "People want accessibility on their iPhones or PCs. And coupled with that, specific to telehealth and telepharmacy, issues of access and convenience are making it easier for patients to obtain healthcare, which will also help to increase compliance and improve outcomes."

    Mark HardyMark HardyMark Hardy, PharmD, executive director of the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy, told Drug Topics that the use of telepharmacy is gaining ground and that states are working to develop rules and standards for it.

    Hardy pointed out that telepharmacy also has had an impact on employment opportunities for pharmacists.

    "It has opened up more practice settings that pharmacists can use," he said. "Access to healthcare is an issue for us in the Midwest and in rural areas, and using services like this is important to ensure that patients have access to care across these states."

    Allie WoodsAllie WoodsAllie Woods, PharmD, director of ASHP's Section of Pharmacy Informatics and Technology, said that while telepharmacy originated in rural areas where there was not enough workforce necessary to meet community demands, it is also being used to support medication use in more and more health systems.

    Some health systems have satellite pharmacies that are not open 24 hours per day and telepharmacy is being used for order review and verification, said Woods.

    The bottom line, Woods said, is that “telepharmacy can be used wherever there is not a pharmacist physically present to help provide the quality of care that’s needed.”

    Woods added that ASHP's policy statement on telepharmacy is currently under review and will be finalized soon.

    Anthony Vecchione
    Anthony Vecchione is Executive Editor of Drug Topics.

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