You may have heard recent buzz about telehealth: connecting to health and wellness services through the use of technologies such as video-conferencing, the internet, streaming media and wireless communication.
But what about telepharmacy? Pharmacists are increasingly using real-time communication tools to improve patients’ access and care. Telepharmacy gives more convenient ways for patients to engage and communicate with their care providers. It makes it easier for pharmacists to follow up with patients. And it also makes healthcare more affordable.
“Pharmacists can use telepharmacy to educate the patient, assess impact of the treatment, check for medication adherence, monitor side effects, and answer patient questions after discharge from the hospital or clinic settings,” said Dr. Shewan Aziz, senior director of Pharmacy Services at Ascension Seton.
Expanding Pharmacy Services to Rural Hospitals
At larger Ascension Seton hospitals, pharmacists are available around the clock to team up with physicians and make recommendations for the best possible therapies. However, smaller rural hospitals such as Ascension Seton Edgar B. Davis in Luling, Ascension Seton Smithville Regional Hospital, and Ascension Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet don’t have 24/7 pharmacist coverage due to their limited resources.
“Through remote telepharmacy coverage, those small hospitals still get 24/7 pharmacist coverage,” Aziz said.
Smaller hospitals’ pharmacists connect with Seton’s larger hospitals through telemedicine to remotely verify medication orders, check for drug interactions and allergy issues, make real-time consultations with physicians and nurses, and verify compounded drug preparations.
Continuity of Care Through Telepharmacy
Another good example of how telepharmacy can help assure continuity of care is by managing medications after a patient is discharged from the hospital. Having follow-up care with a pharmacist can make a big difference in the long run.
Studies have shown that medication-related issues are the main reasons for about 40 to 60 percent of patient’s readmissions to the hospitals within 30 days after discharge.
High-risk patients, after being discharged, are assigned to an ambulatory care pharmacist. Once they’ve returned home, patients use either a computer or a tablet to contact the pharmacist with any questions. The pharmacist periodically checks in with the patient to see if:
- The right medications have been ordered and received
- The drugs are affordable and, if not, whether financial assistance can be found
- The drugs are being used correctly
- There are any interactions between different drugs
- There are any bad drug reactions or side effects
This kind of follow up can help improve patient outcomes, lower hospital readmission rates, and optimize the physician’s efforts by shifting some of the burden to the pharmacist.
Telepharmacy Helps Chronic Disease Management
Telepharmacy can be used to remotely monitor and manage chronic diseases, particularly for elderly patients. The majority of patients who need continuous monitoring for chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart failure are over age 65. Almost one-third of senior patients with chronic diseases are on at least eight different drugs.
Seeking medical care is often hard for seniors, either because they may live in remote areas, have mobility problems, have money issues, or can’t get a ride.
A pharmacist can track these patients to offer medication management therapy, conduct a comprehensive medication review, and counsel them to make sure their drugs are working right.
Providing Guidance in a Sea of Drug Confusion
A fairly common hospital situation is for patients to arrive with a melee of medications they’re taking. The concern: that their hospital treatments will interfere with their current drug regimen.
“They come with a bag of drugs and the first question they ask is, ‘Who do I give this bag to?’” Aziz said.
Through telepharmacy, Seton’s centralized pharmacy technicians can remotely view all the medications a patient is taking, talk to the patient directly at home, fill in any information gaps by contacting retail pharmacists, and hand over a completed medication summary to the doctor.
“They make sure that we have a continuity of care and prevent any potential for errors or mistakes,” Aziz said.
Listen to more about telepharmacy and telehealth on Ascension Seton HealthLine‘s recent podcast with Dr. Shewan Aziz and Dr. Kristi Henderson.