Year in Review and 2021 Pharmacy Trends with Ken Thai

December 30, 2020

Ken Thai, PharmD, Drug Topics editorial advisory board member, lists the key trends from 2020 and where he envisions pharmacy going in 2021.


Hi, I'm Gabrielle Ientile with Drug Topics®. As 2020 comes to a close, Drug Topics® is asking our editorial advisory board members what the biggest trends in pharmacy have been and what 2020 will bring to the pharmacy space.

Up next is my interview with Ken Thai, PharmD, previous president of California Pharmacists Association (CPhA).

Drug Topics®: To start off, can you introduce yourself and a little bit of your professional background as well?

Thai: Absolutely. Well, my name is Ken Thai. And I am an independent pharmacy owner. I've been working in community practice, quite frankly, for a long time. I graduated back in 2002. So it's been a long time, did a community residency and then eventually went into pharmacy ownership, and have been doing so for quite some time and I own a pharmacy franchise, which is in Southern California, Nevada and Texas. Most recently, I just actually served as the president of CPhA. And I think I can proudly say that it's been 3 months since I finished my term, so I'm pretty excited to start a new chapter. And, of course, it's been a very interesting year with COVID-19, and whatnot. And so, hopefully, with the vaccine on board, we can say bye to COVID sometime in the near future, or 2021.

Drug Topics®: So this year, we've also seen major upward trends in digital health, boosting technology and telehealth platforms to meet demand and need, and increased access to health care where brick and mortar are lacking. In 2020. What were some of the major aspects of technology within pharmacy, and where were these advances take us in the year ahead?

Thai: I think there was more of a final realization that we need to better utilize the current technology that's available to us. For example, currently, we're on Zoom, that wasn’t new. Zoom was available, quite frankly, a while back. And I think it became popularized by an event like this, where we finally realized that, hey, you know what, this is not the future anymore, this is the present, this is what we need to do right now in order to make sure that patients are being provided for and that we properly counsel or talk to our patients about what's needed, in light of the fact that they are not recommended to leave the houses or go out there to potentially get exposed. Going to clinics, where there's other people potentially bring in other germs and whatnot.

I think it's more of a realization and fast forwarding the idea and or the need to utilize and better utilize the technology that's present. I think that was at least my takeaway for 2020. Now, of course, that also pushed forward a lot of technological advances that say, well, what else can we do? What else can we do? Are the different areas within the technological world that we can start utilizing to move into our health care industry?

For example, 3D printing, can we 3D print products now? Things like that, which we never really considered before. You talk about Alexa or Google Home, these are different technology platforms that allow you to better access information. So why can't they become an access point for health technologies, when they're inviting you in to take your drugs? Or better yet, they can become a dispensing mechanism to not just remind you, but to present you the drugs to take. Or allow you a better communication tool to perform telehealth with your pharmacists or with your doctors, nurses and whatnot.

So I think that that was what I realized is that it really fast forwarded, the world of technology utilization within the health industry. I think it's a similar parallel to what you see with Amazon. I think their business went up by 25%. What took them almost a 20-30 years to get to in terms of market share achievement, they achieved in 6 to 9 months. And I think that's a similar sort of analogy in terms of the healthcare world, is to better utilize it.

And of course, every clinic, every pharmacy that I've interacted with, have pretty much explained and communicated to me that the use of health care technologies and telehealth has gone up, I'd say from probably 5-10% to now 60 70% of their practice, which is ridiculous. That's crazy.

And I think it's put us at a place where we actually question whether or not it's even, of course, it still is, in many situations, but whether or not a lot of the things that we did previously maybe could be better maximized, and be more efficiently performed through telehealth and through a different means of communicating with the patients that we service. So I think that's what I got out of it. And of course, 2021 can only see it even higher level of that movement, if it hasn't happened already.

Drug Topics®: And then on a global scale this year, health systems all over the world were really placed on the global stage and were evaluated based on their responses to the pandemic. What do you see as the major trends there and how will this carry over into 2021?

Thai: I think this is a huge development. I really felt that, for whatever reason, health care, even though it's always sort of been on the forefront, was never really on the center stage if that made sense. And I think that whether it's locally, legislatively, all of a sudden, there's nothing that we talk about other than health care now.

And on a global front, I think that further emphasized the need to become a more global health care community where we're sharing information. Because now things that happen in the US are no longer isolated to the US. They're affecting Canada, they're affecting Mexico, they're affecting countries across the world, in Europe, in Asia. And I think that's what we're learning is that we're not in silos, and these pandemics can potentially - this one, I never thought in my lifetime, that well, I'll be involved in a pandemic like this, I don't think any of us did. But now that it sort of brought that back to the forefront, it's made us realize that we're much more of a tight-knit community than we think. And that we need to share this health care information and this globalization of healthcare in terms of sharing of our advances and technologies and whatnot, because that's important.

Just because you're affected a certain way in certain countries, doesn't mean that we're immune to it anywhere else. And we've seen that already, the globalization has really globalized the passing on of germs everywhere. And I think that's something that was initially, kind of took us all back. But now we've come to accept that this is how it's going to be. Unless we take a step back from globalizing the economy, which I don't see happening, then we need to also understand that health care will follow suit, because of the fact that everyone's moving everywhere. No one feels that they need to be locked down in a particular area, spacing more in these silos that were once maybe slightly present around the world no longer exists.

I think it's a good thing, I think it's a good thing, just because we should be on this all on the same page, we should be talking and communicating, there is no difference if you're in one area region of a country versus another, because we all honestly can be equally affected by all these different diseases.

Diabetes here is no different from diabetes in Japan, or in Europe. And I think we have always kind of worked way too much in silos. So I'm, even though it happened in this unfortunate way, I think that things always kind of worked out for the better, in the future, as we kind of understand that, we do need to work together.

Drug Topics®: And in closing, as one of our Drug Topics editorial advisory board members, what do you have to say to our audience of pharmacists, as this year comes to a close and with 2021 on the horizon?

Thai: I really want to say that, I do feel this pandemic has really made us take a step back, to refocus and rethink about our lives and where we are, and the importance of family and friends and the importance of social interaction.

And I think it's been, it's been a very self-reflective year for most of us. And I just hope that we learned something positive from it. My heart does go out to everyone who is obviously affected. I personally, of course, was affected as well. I've had some friends and family that passed away this past year, because of this unfortunate virus. And my heart goes out to everyone.

And I think that really puts us in a position to also look at the opportunities that exist, and we mentioned about global globalizing, the needs of health care; health care advances through technologies, but to better utilize what we currently have to better serve our patients. I think these are opportunities to relook at the delivery of Medicare of our medicine and medical attention to our patients. I think the delivery of medications to our patients went up by almost 40-50% across the board in my pharmacy from home.

And so the delivery of healthcare is now being rethought. And I just think that we end on a positive note by at least understanding that vaccines are available very soon. And that, hopefully, I think they’re predicting probably mid-May or June that a majority of the folks that want the vaccine will have access or will be vaccinated, which means that there will have a great summer in 2021.

I think a lot of folks probably would love to go back out there and maybe have a nice getaway and vacation since they've been at home and whatnot for quite a long time now. And of course, it gives us an opportunity to now fast forward and hopefully prevent another incident like this from happening.

And I think that's the key things to learn from what we've experienced, and then put it in place so that we can minimize, or at least more effectively approach containing pandemics like this in the future. And I say this because I do feel that it will happen; history repeats itself. And it will happen again, and we just have to put ourselves in a better position the next time it comes around, to better arm ourselves and protect our fellow friends and colleagues and whatnot and citizens. And I think that's what I want to leave with is just that summer of hope, and I think we definitely see it, at least in the health care industry and as a pharmacist and frontline provider.

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