Pharmacists are an important and accessible part of a patient’s care team, yet more often than not the pharmacist is relegated to the role of quiet medication filler. Instead, taking advantage of the pharmacist’s proximity to the patient and the trust that already exists between pharmacist and patient could provide a revolution in patient care. Part of the way to bridge the gap between what pharmacists routinely do and what they are capable of is by engaging pharmacists more deeply in digital care.
Not retrieving data from patients is a missed opportunity for specialty pharmacies. “Specialty pharmacies must leverage patients’ increasing digital competency and changing perspectives regarding data sharing to meet digital expectations, enhance the patient journey, and improve health outcomes,” wrote Marc Stranz, PharmD, and Justin Linhorst, MBA in the Pharmacy Times. Some of the interventions pharmacists can provide are as simple as a text message reminding patients to take their medicine, or they can be at a higher level of technology as well depending on the patient’s needs and preferences. “Whether promoting healthy behavior, providing management tools, or facilitating access to care, digital health interventions provide pharmacists with a substantial resource for increasing patient engagement, reducing costs, and improving health outcomes,” wrote Stranz and Linhorst.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, concerned parties were flagging the importance of digital health interventions in the pharmaceutical sphere. “Digital health goes beyond just integrating our pharmaceutical products with sensors to get tract adherence and assess objectives. We are seeing the nascent realm called 'digital therapeutics' gather mass attention,” wrote Timothy Aungst, PharmD in a prescient 2019 opinion piece in the Pharmacy Times.
This means that for some time, pharmacists have been aware of the oncoming wave of telehealth services. While no one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that the emerging spotlight on digital health was indeed within the realm of recognition. “If pharma is thinking 'beyond the pill' with tech, pharmacy must 'think beyond the fill,'” wrote Aungst.
There are many ways pharmacists can begin to “think beyond the fill.” “Pharmacists are often the last healthcare professionals that patients interact with in the drug chain process. Therefore, they have the ideal predisposition and capacities to provide certain digital health services,” stated a post on the Veta Health blog. These services include medication adherence, EHR integration, and the collection of patient data.
Ultimately pharmacists are capable of a great deal in the digital health sphere, and engaging pharmacists in telehealth care will provide dividends to providers, payors and patients for years to come.