The world is facing an uncertain and disconcerting time and people will be looking to their local healthcare professionals to provide them with medicine, a reassuring smile, and maybe someone to talk to. While businesses are shutting down and employees are working from home, pharmacists and technicians remain on the front lines with other healthcare providers, standing up as pillars of their communities to not only provide for their patients' physical needs, but their emotional needs as well.
Unfortunately, carriers of the virus will most likely interact with the healthcare providers who are positioned to treat infected patients and if COVID-19 is not slowed or contained it could overrun our healthcare system, even with our attempts to help “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of the virus. With the potential spread of the virus to those on the front lines of patient care, including pharmacists and technicians, there is great risk that vital pharmacy services in some communities might come to a screeching halt: Telepharmacy is the solution to increasing safe patient access to a pharmacist.
Patients, now more than ever, are having difficulty accessing care. With nurses, physician assistants, doctors, and other healthcare providers focusing on the most severe cases, patients will rely on local pharmacies and pharmacists even more. People still have questions about their medications and everyday health and pharmacists meet those healthcare needs in more ways than the public may even realize. As the virus continues to spread, pharmacies may be the only location open in towns for essential needs. Pharmacists are able to triage potential illness by screening patients to help determine if patients should self-quarantine or if they should seek further medical care. Pharmacists can provide specific counseling and guidance on OTC medications, and disseminate information on new updates related to medications and treatments. Don’t forget, pharmacists are still dispensing patients’ maintenance medications while lending a hand to this crisis.
Imagine what would happen if pharmacists are lost to this crisis: pharmacies will shut down, making access even harder than it already is. It would only take one infected pharmacist to stop the availability of medication access for patients, and increase the likelihood of spreading the virus to every patient they talked with prior to showing signs of infection. Providing safe access to a pharmacist can help stop the spread of COVID-19, and improve patient outcomes.
Telehealth has become an important topic in the response to COVID-19 as a vital channel for patients to receive in-person medical care and limit interaction in public spaces. Telepharmacy should also be made a priority as a solution to combat the spread of the virus and increase access to care. Telepharmacy enables the safe provision of pharmacy services that we are used to, but also provides safeguards to ensure social distancing allowing that same face-to-face interaction without the risk of viral transmission. It can keep pharmacies open, making communities healthier and safer, mitigating the chances of community spread. We already have the technology to help lessen this burden and provide virtual pharmacist access through telepharmacy.
Patients will still need to go to a pharmacy to pick up their prescription, but telepharmacy technology allows “touchless” patient workflows and video counseling with a remote pharmacist. These improved workflows help minimize the risk of exposure and further spreading of the virus. Touchless patient workflows allow patients to have a private conversation with a pharmacist without having to handle any devices or risk infection of health care providers. Additionally, through telepharmacy, counseling with a pharmacist can be initiated on devices located at the telepharmacy or used on personal cell phones, allowing patients to connect with a pharmacist from the comfort of their own home. This allows patients to stay home when they are sick, their caregivers to pick up medication for them, and still receive safe access to a pharmacist.
While combating this global pandemic will take a concerted effort from everyone across the globe, utilizing technology such as telepharmacy gives the pharmacist one more tool in their toolbelt to prevent unnecessary viral spread to themselves, their staff, and other patients. NOW is the time to legalize and implement telepharmacy and allow pharmacists to provide safe and effective care for their patients. Telemedicine has been practiced safely for years by physicians and nurses, and it is time for pharmacists to be granted the same abilities.
Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and other healthcare providers face threats to their health every day they go to work. Think about it, you go see your pharmacist and technicians when you are sick, but they greet you with a smile and go above and beyond to make sure you are on the path to getting well. We as health care providers knew this when we signed up for the job and are driven by improving patient health. Utilizing telehealth and telepharmacy technology to decrease this threat is essential to mitigate this crisis, expand access in the future, and get us back to normal.
One of the best ways you can advocate for change is to reach out to your local boards, associations, and legislators. In order to help you do that, we've created templates for letters you can write to these governing bodies to advocate for broad telepharmacy regulations. You can access them here: