Nearly 20% of Americans live in rural areas that make up 86% of the country's land. Although the rural population continues to grow, access to pharmacies has declined. Between 2003 and 2018, 1,231 rural pharmacies closed, leaving a gap in rural healthcare. Community pharmacies play an important role in patient safety, specifically concerning medication adherence. Less compliant patients tend to experience more negative health outcomes.A recent study from the RUPRI Center discovered 138 counties where no retail pharmacies existed. If that wasn't concerning enough, there are nearly 4,000 pharmacy deserts in America that affect over 1.5 million people. We define pharmacy deserts as areas within a 10-mile radius without ready access to a pharmacy.
How do pharmacy deserts affect rural health outcomes?
Rural populations often have more senior citizens and residents with substantial needs. Pair this with pharmacy closures and the current physician shortage, and you get a recipe for disaster. Already vulnerable populations are forced to travel greater distances to retrieve their medications and receive counsel from a pharmacist. Often, obtaining transportation to neighboring communities is harder said than done.
How do we combat the increase in pharmacy deserts?
One solution is telepharmacy. It allows pharmacists to restore access to pharmacy services to patients in pharmacy deserts. The practice brings vital health services back to rural areas. It helps keep healthcare local and complements neighborhood clinics. Through telepharmacy, a pharmacy technician fills prescriptions under the remote supervision of a pharmacist. Said pharmacist is also available to counsel patients via a live video feed.
Starting a telepharmacy or converting an underperforming traditional pharmacy are cost-effective ways to provide pharmacy care to patients. You can create a network of virtual pharmacists and expand your pharmacy business while providing optimal care for patients—even in pharmacy deserts.
Hundreds of rural communities stand to benefit from access to a pharmacist. With telepharmacy, not only is that possible, but access causes a chain reaction of positive results: increased clinical interventions, improved medication adherence rates, and overall better health outcomes.
Learn more about rural pharmacy deserts
Check out some other suggestions for improving rural health outcomes in this blog. If you're curious about where the pharmacy deserts are in your state, click on the map below.