Telepharmacy Gains Attention

Author: Eileen Koutnik-Fotopoulos, Staff Writer

Telepharmacy is emerging as a technologically advanced option for community, hospital, and government pharmacies. The telepharmacy platform allows the pharmacist to oversee and control remote dispensing and to manage drug inventories from a central location. ScriptPro is fulfilling these needs with its telepharmacy approach for the Veterans Administration (VA) and branches of the military.

Michael Coughlin, president and chief executive officer of ScriptPro, said the company initiated its telepharmacy solution 3 years ago with the VA for a process improvement project. The VA currently uses the system in community-based outpatient clinics. Seven months ago, ScriptPro began a rollout of the system at various naval sites. The use of telepharmacy will help the Navy meet new requirements from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).

"The Department of Defense [DOD] has hundreds of pharmacies that have operated for years without a pharmacist. They have pharmacists who visit each site," explained Coughlin.

In March 2005, JCAHO informed the DOD it had 18 months to get pharmacists reviewing all prescriptions and medication orders before, not after, pharmacy technicians dispensed the medications. JCAHO had been granting military pharmacies a waiver on their requirement to have a pharmacist release every prescription. Yet, the accreditation group withdrew the DOD's exemption because of increased emphasis on patient safety and a need for one standard for all accredited organizations.

Naval Hospital Bremerton (Bremerton, Wash) and Naval Hospital Pensacola (Pensacola, Fla) are using ScriptPro's telepharmacy as a way to comply with standards in order to keep their accreditation.Telepharmacy is viewed as a cost-effective solution to better use pharmacists' time and expertise, in light of the shortage of pharmacists in all practice settings and the lack of finances to hire additional pharmacists. The platform is fully integrated with ScriptPro's robotics-based workflow so pharmacies can enable their current ScriptPro workstation to participate in a telepharmacy network. The system features 3 key components:

•Inspection and verification—the pharmacist oversees and supports personnel filling and verifying of prescriptions at a remote location using a video/audio/data link over a network. Images captured at the remote location allow the pharmacist to review, approve, and document all transactions.

•Remote management—the pharmacist supervises inventory replenishment and overall remote pharmacy operations

•Patient counseling and education—the pharmacist communicates with the patient through a video and audio link to provide individual realtime counseling, education, and motivation

Coughlin said that patient counseling is being used a great deal in telepharmacy. The system offers complete privacy for the patient to communicate with the pharmacist, and patients do not have to wait in long lines and ask their questions in front of other individuals. "Patients are more inclined to use the counseling offered because it's private," he said. "The Navy initially thought counseling wasn't important. However, once it was in place and they saw patients using it, they thought it was very important. The objective is keeping sailors healthy, and counseling is fundamental to keeping them healthy."

ScriptPro believes telepharmacy is a practical solution for any pharmacy setting. Although chain pharmacies are not using this equipment as much for the remote capabilities, they feel the technology will help balance their workload. It is also a way for 24-hour grocery stores to keep their pharmacies open all night. Independent pharmacies that help with nursing home prescriptions or assist at smaller pharmacies "are seeing this as an opportunity and a way to learn how to use the services people want," according to Coughlin.

"There are a lot of challenges in pharmacy and health care. Everyone needs to look at how they can reinvent themselves with using technology," he concluded.