Pharmacy Technicians, Rural Areas Benefit From Expansion of Telepharmacy

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Nicole Bernabe, CPhT, customer success specialist at TelePharm, discusses how the company is helping pharmacies increase operational efficiency while providing care to patients in need.

Telehealth services have been steadily gaining popularity over the last decade and were further adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic to alleviate the significant burden placed on health care systems. Telepharmacy, which allows for pharmaceutical care through telecommunications and information technologies, is also being increasingly adopted by pharmacists in various practice settings.

Pharmacy technician helping customer with prescription / Gorodenkoff - stock.adobe.com

Pharmacy technician helping customer with prescription / Gorodenkoff - stock.adobe.com

Telepharmacy services include different applications, such as remote dispensing, remote patient counseling, and remote order-entry review. Many pharmacists have acknowledged the benefits of telepharmacy. A survey of 404 pharmacists found that 77% said that telepharmacy increases patient access to pharmaceuticals in rural areas and 70% said they feel that it promotes patient medication adherence.1

TelePharm, a software company leveraging telemedicine to connect pharmacists and patients, is working to further the adoption of telepharmacy services across the United States. During the Outcomes 2024 SYNC National Conference, Nicole Bernabe, CPhT, customer success specialist at TelePharm, talked about how the company is helping pharmacies increase operational efficiency while providing care to patients in need.2

“What we do is retail telepharmacy,” Bernabe said. “It’s a concept that some people aren't familiar with. Essentially, we have a location in a small rural town somewhere. What they had was a community that needed care for patients. Those patients [were] driving long distances sometimes, and enough that it will prohibit them from filling prescriptions. What they saw was an opportunity to bring the services of the pharmacy and a pharmacist to a community without pharmacists being physically in that pharmacy. Our software opened that up for them…”

In rural areas throughout the country, nearly half of all pharmacies are independently owned. However, these retail stores have been significantly impacted by closures. According to a report by the RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis, the number of independent pharmacies fell by 16.1% in noncore areas and by 9.1% in micropolitan areas.3 And it’s not just independent pharmacies that are being impacted—retail and franchise pharmacies have also been declining in these areas.

READ MORE: Telepharmacy Services Can Help Pharmacists Streamline Workflows, Improve Patient Outcomes

While telepharmacy has been helping in certain parts of the country to fill this unmet need, the regulation around these services remains fragmented. In 2001, North Dakota became the first state to enact regulations that allowed the practice of telepharmacy. Since then, 28 states have begun permitting telepharmacy in some form, with more and more introducing legislation each year. Roughly 40% of states do not currently allow telepharmacy.

Telepharmacies are staffed by a trained technician that processes prescriptions in a pharmacy management system. The workflow includes data entry, image capture, pharmacist verification, pharmacist counseling if needed, and check-out. TelePharm’s telepharmacy services boasts a suite of products that help improve these operational efficiencies: a final verification product, a telecounsel product, and a count product.

“It's all right there and it doesn't matter if you're overseeing 1 remote pharmacy or 10,” Bernabe said. “You will have all of that data consolidated in the queue-based workflow. Then the pharmacist checks that prescription and approves it. When [the] patient comes to pick that up, [you] can pull that scan, and it's going to say, “It looks like the pharmacist wanted to counsel with you,” or “It's new and we need to do a consultation, can you go ahead and step over here to our pharmacist patient counseling? The pharmacist will be there in a minute to talk about whatever questions you have.”

Aside from improving patient outcomes and their access to services, Bernabe said telepharmacy also gives pharmacy technicians a greater sense of empowerment and ownership by becoming the face of a specific telepharmacy location. These technicians are often part of the community and want to help, and telepharmacy allows them to do so.

“They are well known already by a lot of the residents and that becomes…an investment for them," Bernabe said. “It creates these great relationships with a lot of [technicians] that have a relationship with a prescriber that may be in that community. It creates a nice community environment. It's been a really fantastic reception with the technicians we’ve talked to.”

References
1. Ahmed NJ, Almalki ZS, Alsawadi AH, et al. Knowledge, perceptions, and readiness of telepharmacy among community pharmacists. Saudi Pharm J. 2023;31(9):101713. doi:10.1016/j.jsps.2023.101713
2. Bernie N. Expand your Pharmacy, Add a Location with Minimal Staff Thanks to Telepharm. Presented at: Outcomes 2024 SYNC National Conference; February 22-24, 2024; Orlando, FL.
3. Lazaro E, Ullrish F, Mueller KJ. Update on Rural Independently Owned Pharmacy Closures in the United States, 2003-2021. Report. RUPRI Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis. August 2022. Accessed February 24, 2024. https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/pharmacy-and-prescription-drugs
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