Pivot! When to Consider Conversion to Telepharmacy

Mitch Larson | September 3, 2020

Pivot: Keep your foot planted in basketball to avoid a travel. Shift directions while moving a couch up a narrow stairwell. Make a change to your business that will benefit the business and your customers/patients.

Pivot

As you know, there are several meanings associated with the word “pivot,” but today we’ll be talking about the third meaning - making a beneficial change to your business. There are several examples of prominent companies that owe their success to a pivot they made at one point in their business lifetime.

AirBnB began as a temporary lodging service specifically for business conferences, but pivoted to make it a general consumer service and opened up a whole new world of opportunity. Honda initially entered the US market in the 1950’s attempting to compete with Harley-Davidson, but found there was much more demand for their bikes in the off-roading market. They pivoted and shifted their focus to dirt bikes and recreational vehicles, which helped them gain recognition and prominence. This pivot allowed them to eventually compete with Harley later on, and in fact they remain one of their strongest competitors today. Of course, one of the most famous examples of a company pivoting is Netflix, who went from DVD delivery to on-demand streaming, kicking off the new era of streaming we are familiar with today.

All of these are excellent examples of companies that paid attention to the market, made changes, and enjoyed success. Pivots are necessary in pharmacy as well. One innovative way pharmacists are pivoting their practices is by converting to telepharmacy.

But why convert to telepharmacy? How do you know if telepharmacy is right for your practice? This article will lay out the top four scenarios pharmacies find themselves in that are prime opportunities to convert to telepharmacy.

Converting an Underperforming Pharmacy to a Telepharmacy

The first scenario, and perhaps the most common, is converting a traditional pharmacy that is underperforming financially. Telepharmacy can act as a lifeline for struggling pharmacies, allowing them to stay in operation and retain pharmacy access for patients in the community, while also keeping the pharmacy financially solvent. But how?

When a pharmacy’s volume is low or the location is struggling to make ends meet, often the pharmacy is forced to close its doors for good, eliminating the community’s access to pharmacy services. However, because telepharmacy reduces the overall operating costs involved with traditional pharmacy, it is a solution that makes the location financially viable and allows patients to still enjoy safe convenient access to their pharmacist and pharmacy services.

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to convert a traditional pharmacy location to a telepharmacy such as the population of the community where the pharmacy is located and the proximity to alternative options for patients.

Telepharmacies are not always able to handle the same volume a traditional pharmacy can. When considering conversion, think about the patient base your telepharmacy will be serving. If there are too few patients, the volume can certainly be too low to sustain it, even with the lower operating costs. On the other hand, you don’t want there to be so much volume that it overwhelms your telepharmacy (of course, if volume of patients isn’t a problem, perhaps conversion isn’t necessary to consider in the first place).

When considering a conversion to telepharmacy, you should also take stock of the competition that surrounds the location. If the pharmacy is struggling and closure is being considered, but there are several competing pharmacies within a relatively close distance, then converting may not be worthwhile. However, if you’re the only pharmacy within a reasonable or convenient distance for your patients, converting to telepharmacy will be a great way to maintain service for these patients while reducing costs.

Converting a Clinic Pharmacy to Telepharmacy to Free Up Pharmacists

In health systems and clinics pharmacists have the ability to play a much more active and integral role in the patient care process. However, this is often not possible because the pharmacist is usually too busy behind the pharmacy counter. In fact, a recent study found over 50% of a pharmacist’s time is spent on non-value added tasks like prescription preparation and EMR operations. Telepharmacy presents an opportunity to shift the workload to allow pharmacists to interact with patients directly and work with physicians to ensure optimal treatments and outcomes.

Take for instance UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. Across their several clinic locations, they provide pharmacy service so patients can have all their needs met in one stop. At one of their clinics, they decided they wanted to maximize the clinical impact of their on-site pharmacists. With that goal in mind, they converted that clinic’s pharmacy to a telepharmacy. The prescription verification and patient counseling were performed by a pharmacist at a separate location, which freed up the on-site pharmacist to meet with patients and perform clinical activities as part of the patient care team, such as performing disease state monitoring, immunizations, and creating drug regimens

When pharmacists are actively working side-by-side with physicians, making treatment plans and counseling patients, patient outcomes improve. Pharmacists play a vital role in the optimization of patient care, and freeing up pharmacists’ time from non-value added activities is an effective way to improve the overall service and care a clinic provides its patients.

Using Telepharmacy to Balance Workload Across Multiple Pharmacy Locations

Pharmacies with several locations naturally experience different levels of traffic. One might always be busier than another, or maybe one experiences it’s main rush over the lunch hour, and the other consistently gets slammed in the last hour before closing. Whatever the situation may be, it’s never ideal for one location to be hustling and bustling while the other is dead with the staff playing solitaire on their computers.

This sort of scenario is a perfect opportunity for pharmacies to implement telepharmacy to spread out the workload across multiple locations maximizing the staff working at all times.

Prescriptions at the busy location can be verified by pharmacists at the less busy locations. This allows the busy location to serve patients more quickly, while also making the most of the resources and staff the pharmacies have on-hand. This minimizes the burden and stress for staff across the board, and also allows pharmacists to take their time and conduct critical consultations with patients, as opposed to rushing to fill as many prescriptions as possible.

Of course, when pharmacists and technicians are able to take their time, they are able to fill prescriptions more accurately. Without the stress of getting prescriptions filled as fast as possible, each member of the pharmacy staff is able to take their time and ensure they’re providing the best possible care and service to patients.

Pull a Switcharoo - Start with Telepharmacy, then Convert to Traditional

Let’s say you have a location picked out for your next pharmacy, but you’re not entirely confident the patient population will support a traditional pharmacy. You can build it, but will they come? You’d like to test it out and see how well things go and how much volume this particular location is capable of generating.

Telepharmacy is a great way to dip your toes in the water and start serving patients without requiring a large patient base up front. We’ve worked with pharmacists wanting to expand their business who have opened a telepharmacy in an underserved area, assuming the telepharmacy would be enough to serve the needs of the community. To their excitement, after a while of being in town, the volume grew to a point where they actually could hire a pharmacist to work on-site full time and it was converted to a traditional pharmacy.

Telepharmacy is a great way to provide pharmacy access to people in underserved areas, and it’s also a great way to test a new market for your business. A low-cost, small-footprint telepharmacy can easily be converted to a traditional pharmacy later on if the volume makes that a necessary switch(aroo) to make.

TelePharm has worked with hundreds of pharmacies across the country spanning a variety of use cases and situations. Whether your pharmacy is in one of these scenarios listed above, or in a completely unique situation, we at TelePharm would love to talk with you about whether telepharmacy could be a beneficial pivot for you to make.

Reach out to us if you ever want to talk through your scenario and to see if telepharmacy is right for your practice.

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