Telepharmacy: A Patient's Perspective
By Mitch Larson, TelePharm, on 6/24/2019
Telepharmacy has ample benefits for pharmacists, clinics, hospitals, and healthcare as a whole. But all of that is a moot point if it’s not benefiting the most important group of all - the patients. The entire goal of telepharmacy is not just to improve pharmacy business, it’s to make pharmacy care more convenient and accessible for patients in both rural and urban underserved areas.
In order to find out exactly how telepharmacy has impacted patients, we decided to go right to the source - the patients themselves.
We started by making our way to Montezuma, Iowa. Montezuma has a population of approximately 1,400 people, and for a long time there was a traditional pharmacy located in town. A number of years ago, that pharmacy closed its doors, leaving Montezuma residents with no option but to drive 30 minutes (approx. 25 miles) to the nearest pharmacy. This went on for over 2 years, until local pharmacy chain NuCara decided to restore pharmacy access to the town in the form of a telepharmacy.
Since opening its doors two years ago, NuCara’s telepharmacy has served residents of the town like Sharon and Dave, two people who we had the pleasure of sitting down with. Let’s hear first what Sharon had to say regarding her experience with the telepharmacy:
Sharon from Montezuma, IA.
“This town has a lot of elderly and this is so much easier for them. It’s a blessing, really.”
Sharon clearly enjoys having the pharmacy back in town, and the fact that the pharmacist isn’t there in-person doesn’t bother her at all. That’s because he’s always accessible via the tablet and, as is the case for most telepharmacies, he schedules a few days each month to come to the pharmacy in-person to give vaccinations and do other clinical tasks for patients in town.
Next, let’s hear what Dave had to say about the telepharmacy:
Dave from Montezuma, IA.
“When we didn’t have a pharmacy here it was a struggle… The service here is phenomenal, and it’s a godsend to the community.”
Dave also really appreciates having the pharmacy in town, as it makes it much easier for him to take his many trips to the pharmacy to pick up medications for his wife, who is battling cancer. In inclement weather, it is not only inconvenient, but often dangerous, for elderly residents of towns like Montezuma to travel over 25 miles multiple times per month just to get their necessary prescriptions.
It’s clear to see that in Montezuma, telepharmacy has made a positive impact on the patients it serves, and on the community as a whole.
To get some perspective on how telepharmacy impacts patients in urban areas, we made our way to Chicago, Illinois, where 19 telepharmacies are in operation today.
A common misconception is that there is a pharmacy on every corner in bigger cities, but this is not the case. In fact, in Chicago, there are over 1 million people who live further than 1 mile from their nearest pharmacy. While 1 mile may not seem like a lot, in a larger city traveling one mile might consist of taking a bus, a train, a taxi, or finding a ride from a friend or family member. This can be costly, inconvenient, and overall cumbersome especially for those who do not have a mode of personal transportation, are sick, disabled, or elderly.
We visited with patients of a chain of Medicare clinics with a handful of locations in Chicago. The clinics cater specifically to patients on Medicare, meaning the vast majority of their patient population are 65 and older. As a benefit to patients, the clinics provide a transportation service to and from appointments. This transportation service makes getting the healthcare services they need very convenient, particularly for those with disabilities or those who lack convenient access to transportation.
For a long time, these clinics didn’t provide on-site pharmacy services because the prescription volume in their clinics didn’t justify the cost of a traditional pharmacy with a full-time pharmacist. This caused issues for the patients because they would have many of their healthcare needs met at the clinic, yet after they were dropped off at home with a prescription in hand they had to find their own way to the nearest pharmacy. This is an especially difficult task for those patients who may require canes, walkers, and wheelchairs to get around.
With the help of a pharmacy chain which provides pharmacy services for health clinics, telepharmacies were installed in many of the Medicare clinics in the Chicago area. Now they are able to provide for all their patients’ needs on-site and remove any difficulty or inconvenience for those they serve.
We talked to Lorraine and Charles, two clinic patients, about their experience with the clinic and the telepharmacy located in it. Here’s what Lorraine said about the telepharmacy:
Lorraine from Chicago, IL.
“After my visit I’d go home then I’d walk 6 blocks to get the medicine. Sometimes I would walk up there and it wasn’t ready, so that means I had to come back again... This right here (the telepharmacy) is much better for me.”
Lorraine dreaded that walk to the pharmacy so much that she gave it a sarcastic nickname - “the magnificent mile.” She used to have to walk 6 long blocks to get to her pharmacy, but now she gets a ride to the clinic, has her appointments, fulfills her prescriptions, and gets a ride back home. It’s simple, convenient, and ultimately safer for Lorraine all around.
Charles from Chicago, IL.
(Referring to talking to a pharmacist on the tablet) “Wonderful, no complaints. It’s just almost like being up close and personal!”
Charles has a different situation in that he does own a car and typically drives himself to his appointments. Even though it may be easier for the overall healthy and mobile Charles to get to the traditional pharmacy after his appointment, he definitely appreciates and prefers the convenience that he gets from the telepharmacy. In addition to that, he likes the technician and feels like there is a relationship there that he hadn’t felt at his other pharmacies.
In both rural and urban settings, we found that patients prefer the convenience and accessibility afforded them by their local telepharmacies, and the aspect of talking to a pharmacist on-screen rather than in-person has raised no objection from them at all.
Telepharmacy has improved patient access across the country, regardless of the geographical setting or the organization utilizing it. Patients today are comfortable with using technology in general, and they do not show any resistance to using technology to conveniently acquire the care they need.