Telepharmacy: Improving Access to Medicine and Support

Access to a pharmacy is something that most of us take for granted, as almost half of US citizens live within a mile of one. In places such as Alaska, Montana, and the Dakotas, however, the picture is very different, with people in remote areas struggling to get the support they need. For many elderly and chronically ill people — those who need pharmacies the most — even traveling a mile or two can be very difficult. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns meant that it was difficult for most people to access such services, but that taught us an important lesson: that telepharmacy can be a very effective way to plug the gap.

Although it’s not suitable for the needs of every patient, telepharmacy works well for around 85% of those in need of pharmacy services. As it’s still in development, it’s reasonable to assume that this will improve as well. It not only helps provide access to medication but ensures that patients can reach the additional support they need, including monitoring and help coping with side effects. It’s now clear that it has a huge role to play in the future of healthcare.

Checking and dispensing medication

Although doctors do their best for their patients, they’re not infallible, and patients under stress sometimes forget important information such as the details of other medication they’re taking. Pharmacists provide an important verification service, making sure that the prescribed medication is really the right thing for the patient and won’t interact in a problematic way with other drugs. They make sure the dose is correct and that the patient knows how to take it correctly. If patients have difficulty with activities such as swallowing, injecting, or remembering, they can provide helpful tips. They can also provide advice on how to store medication so that it doesn’t deteriorate and can make sure it’s shipped in appropriate packaging that is resistant to heat or cold.

Monitoring medication

Many patients struggle to take their medication consistently over long periods of time. Regular check-up calls with pharmacists can help, especially if they’re done online so that the patient can see a familiar face and feel a more personal connection. This reduces the risk of relapse or general health deterioration. Where short courses of treatment are concerned, pharmacists can make sure that patients understand why it’s important to complete the course even if their symptoms have gone away or taking it is unpleasant. If, for any reason, a patient is left with excess medication, they can provide advice on how to dispose of it safely without contaminating the natural environment.

Dealing with problems and side effects

When patients experience side effects from their medication, it’s important that they have somebody to talk to. Pharmacists can discuss common issues up front, but telepharmacy makes it easy for them to be contacted for advice if a patient is concerned that a side effect might be dangerous, or if symptoms have developed which may or may not be connected to the medication. This reduces the direct risk of harm and also means that they’re less likely to come to harm by abruptly ceasing to take medication, which can be dangerous in itself or can trigger the return of the condition for which it was originally prescribed. Pharmacists can provide advice on how best to manage side effects which are unpleasant but not dangerous and can ensure that patients get the right medical help in the event of serious problems.

Managing chronic illness

For patients who are living with long-term health problems and need ongoing support, telepharmacy can make it much easier for them to manage their conditions, potentially reducing the number of times they need to visit doctors. Patients in this situation often have complex medical needs and take multiple forms of medication. They may also be seeing more than one specialist, which increases the risk of them inadvertently being prescribed medicines which should not be taken together, or whose use in combination requires a specific approach, such as taking them at different times of day. They may need to adjust the dosage of a medication to provide effective management of symptoms which vary over time. In all these areas, telepharmacy makes it much easier for them to access prompt advice and reduce risks.

Improving technology

At present, one of the biggest hurdles to increasing the use of telepharmacy is lack of technological expertise. At the pharmacist’s end, this can be improved through training. The increasing simplicity of technological tools is helping patients to use it more successfully as well. Communication platforms are not the only issue here. Blood pressure and pulse monitors, for instance, have become much cheaper and more widely available as a result of the pandemic, and can help in telepharmacy by providing up to date, accurate information on patient vitals. The range of these types of tools is increasing, alongside tools designed to assist patients directly, such as software and devices that help them to keep track of medication and take it at the right times.

Benefits to the healthcare system

Due to the loss of doctors and nurses during the pandemic, together with the increased demand created by an aging population, the healthcare system is under strain, so approaches like this, which make it more efficient, are a big help. If you’re enrolled in a Pharma D online course, such as the one offered by the University of Findlay, this form of work is a good one to keep in mind. The University of Findlay’s program incorporates experiential learning and helps to hone the communication skills which you will need to do the job well, building trust with patients despite the physical distance between you and ensuring that you are able to extract all pertinent information from them regardless of their own level of knowledge about their health.

Final thoughts

Reducing travel through telepharmacy is directly beneficial to the health of some patients and also helps to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint. Telepharmacy is another step towards giving everyone the same access to health regardless of where they live and looks set to become a big part of the future of healthcare.

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