Telepharmacy Gains Attention

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

Telepharmacy is emerging as atechnologically advanced optionfor community, hospital, and governmentpharmacies. The telepharmacyplatform allows the pharmacist to overseeand control remote dispensing andto manage drug inventories from a centrallocation. ScriptPro is fulfilling theseneeds with its telepharmacy approachfor the Veterans Administration (VA) andbranches of the military.

Michael Coughlin, president and chiefexecutive officer of ScriptPro, said thecompany initiated its telepharmacy solution3 years ago with the VA for a processimprovement project. The VA currentlyuses the system in community-basedoutpatient clinics. Seven months ago,ScriptPro began a rollout of the system atvarious naval sites. The use of telepharmacywill help the Navy meet newrequirements from the Joint Commissionon Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations(JCAHO).

"The Department of Defense [DOD] hashundreds of pharmacies that have operatedfor years without a pharmacist.They have pharmacists who visit eachsite," explained Coughlin.

In March 2005, JCAHO informed theDOD it had 18 months to get pharmacistsreviewing all prescriptions and medicationorders before, not after, pharmacytechnicians dispensed the medications.JCAHO had been grantingmilitary pharmacies a waiver ontheir requirement to have a pharmacistrelease every prescription.Yet, the accreditation group withdrewthe DOD's exemption becauseof increased emphasis onpatient safety and a need for one standardfor all accredited organizations.

Naval Hospital Bremerton(Bremerton, Wash) and NavalHospital Pensacola (Pensacola, Fla) areusing ScriptPro's telepharmacy as a way tocomply with standards in order to keeptheir accreditation.Telepharmacy is viewedas a cost-effective solution to better usepharmacists' time and expertise, in light ofthe shortage of pharmacists in all practicesettings and the lack of finances to hireadditional pharmacists. The platform is fullyintegrated with ScriptPro's robotics-basedworkflow so pharmacies can enable theircurrent ScriptPro workstation to participatein a telepharmacy network. The systemfeatures 3 key components:

•Inspection and verification—thepharmacist oversees and supportspersonnel filling and verifying of prescriptionsat a remote location usinga video/audio/data link over a network.Images captured at the remotelocation allow the pharmacist toreview, approve, and document alltransactions.

•Remote management—the pharmacistsupervises inventory replenishmentand overall remote pharmacyoperations

•Patient counseling and education—the pharmacist communicates withthe patient through a video andaudio link to provide individual realtimecounseling, education, andmotivation

Coughlin said that patient counselingis being used a great deal in telepharmacy.The system offers complete privacyfor the patient to communicate with thepharmacist, and patients do not have towait in long lines and ask their questionsin front of other individuals. "Patients aremore inclined to use the counselingoffered because it's private," he said."The Navy initially thought counselingwasn't important. However, once it wasin place and they saw patients using it,they thought it was very important. Theobjective is keeping sailors healthy, andcounseling is fundamental to keepingthem healthy."

ScriptPro believes telepharmacy is apractical solution for any pharmacy setting.Although chain pharmacies are notusing this equipment as much for theremote capabilities, they feel the technologywill help balance their workload. Itis also a way for 24-hour grocery storesto keep their pharmacies open all night.Independent pharmacies that help withnursing home prescriptions or assist atsmaller pharmacies "are seeing this asan opportunity and a way to learn how touse the services people want," accordingto Coughlin.

"There are a lot of challenges inpharmacy and health care. Everyoneneeds to look at how they can reinventthemselves with using technology," heconcluded.