Virtual health services, also known as telehealth, can be just as effective as in-person visits if used by pharmacists properly, according to a presentation at The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists virtual 2020 Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition.

The panel was moderated by John Beyer, PharmD, MS, MBA, BCPS, a pharmacy informatics manager at the University of Iowa Health Care in Iowa City, Iowa, and LaTasha Riddick, PharmD, a clinical coordinator at Johns Hopkins Home Care Group in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the presenters, telehealth offers patients an interactive, cost-effective way of seeing a health care provider remotely using video and audio technology, and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has made telehealth an invaluable service. Before the pandemic, telehealth was seen as optional and primarily used during special circumstances. However, telehealth now offers patients a safe way to speak to their health care providers.

Before implementing any new telehealth technology into pharmacy practice, the technology, value proposition, key performance indicators, legal and compliance, and evaluating staff readiness should all be taken into account. 

“Traditionally these (telemedicine services) have been focused on inpatient pharmacy services, such as order verification for hospitals that are either located in rural communities or that are extensions of a larger health system. And many times, pharmacists would provide cognitive services such as being a resource to nursing staff, or provider staff… or other types of clinical monitoring,” Beyer said. “We’ve now seen a much larger expansion into the outpatient space.”

One area in which telehealth has proved especially useful during the pandemic is the opioid crisis. According to Beyer, in rural Iowa, telehealth has been crucial in expanding access to naloxone, a lifesaving drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In the past 20 years, opioid deaths have quadrupled in Iowa, with rural and urban areas both being affected. According to Beyer, since the beginning for the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of national opioid overdoses are up 20%.

According to Beyer, a patient can fill out a form and an appointment for a video visit is scheduled. Eligibility and naloxone use are discussed with a pharmacist. If the patient is determined to be eligible, free naloxone is mailed to them. If the patient uses the naloxone, the process starts again. The program has received investments from the Iowa Department of Public Health, he added.

Virtual health can also help to engage patients, especially for those living with severe conditions that may include multiple sclerosis, hyperlipidemia, hepatitis C, as well as those undergoing fertility treatments, according to Riddick.

“Before (the COVID-19 pandemic), virtual health was more viewed as something that was optional, or something that was used in special circumstances like rural communities or patients who just have a hard time getting to an in-person visit,” Riddick said. “Now, living through the COVID-19 pandemic, we do see virtual health as more a necessity to continuing care and to just minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.”

Virtual health can be more coinvent for patients and can be as effective as in-person visits when it comes to pharmaceutical care if it is done properly. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped virtual health services become widely accepted and will be an important part in future pharmacy practice, according to Riddick.  


REFERENCE

Beyer, J, Riddick, L. “Siri, Get Me My Pharmacist”: The Virtual Health Pharmacist Role. Presented at: 2020 ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition; virtual: December 9, 2020.