5 Ways Pharmacists Can Increase Engagement, Improve Services

Patients want more out of community pharmacies in a post-pandemic culture.

The scope of pharmaceutical care is continuing to evolve beyond medication dispensing. Two years since the beginning of the pandemic, most chain and independent pharmacy professionals operate at the top of their licenses, delivering clinical services such as flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, medication therapy management (MTM), and more.

Given projected physician shortfalls of up to 139,000 by 2033, and the fact that 44 million Americans live in physician “deserts,” this trend is expected to continue. But with new opportunities for pharmacy professionals come challenges, such as ensuring optimal reimbursement and compensation, collaboration with health plans, and accountability for patient outcomes. Improving patient engagement and pharmacy enablement will help to ease many of these challenges and boost revenues in 2022.

With that in mind, here are 5 things pharmacy professionals can enhance and improve:

1. Automate Solutions to Prevent Burnout

On the surface, engagement may seem to have little to do with burnout. But when pharmacy professionals don’t feel they have enough time to complete their daily work/tasks, patient relationships suffer.

Even pre-pandemic, the burnout rate among clinical pharmacists was high—61.2% according to one study. With pharmacist shortages and increased need for clinical care, not to mention COVID-19, stress is now normal part of daily life among pharmacy professionals.

What’s needed is better workforce management solutions, such as systems that can help to automate repetitive tasks, ease care collaboration, and ensure pharmacies are up to date on regulations, prescription monitoring programs (PMP), medication synchronization, insurance changes and prior authorization, and other daily functions.

2. Collaborate and Improved Outcomes

Physicians, payers, and pharmacists agree on the importance of good collaboration, yet also understand the difficulty of coordinating care with multiple stakeholders.

Optimizing clinical care isn’t just about technology. It’s also about having a good relationship with clinical partners who can align on value-based care goals.

Still, technology is an important consideration: The right pharmacy management system can facilitate real-time data exchange, and improve communication and collaboration with providers, health plans, and patients themselves. This kind of harmony, in turn, contributes to better outcomes.

3. Enhance Telepharmacy

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth in all health care settings. But 2 years later, many pharmacies aren’t maximizing opportunities to connect with patients virtually.

Also, although most Americans have used telehealth at least once since March 2020, fewer have engaged in virtual consultations with pharmacists. For example, only about one-third of seniors (34%) reported using an online pharmacy during the height of the pandemic in 2020.

It’s time to shift from a “stop gap” mode of relying on telehealth as a temporary fix and embrace telepharmacy as a permanent aspect of value-based care. The right telehealth platform can sync existing pharmacy management solutions and support a wide variety of pharmacist-patient interactions: chronic care management (CCM), diabetes self-management training, medication therapy management, and so forth.

4. Personalized Vaccination Outreach

Immunizations have evolved into a mainstay at pharmacies over the past 2 years, fueled in part by ongoing drives for COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots. In 2021, nearly 54%of Americans got their flu shot at a store, compared with the 2019–20 season (34.9%), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The fact that Americans are increasingly willing to get vaccinated at pharmacies—in lieu of physicians’ offices or urgent care clinics—is a huge opportunity, but also a highly competitive one. Big-name pharmacies are already using sophisticated, AI-powered platforms to create targeted email marketing campaigns for customers. Independent community pharmacies need to work with their vendor partners to explore patient engagement and digital marketing tactics, in addition to personal phone calls and texts.

5. Expanded Offerings

With regulations governing pharmacy benefits managers and direct and indirect remuneration fees in flux, pharmacies will need to improve and expand their scope of services to engage patients, and effectively improve care and overall experience.

As such, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Foundation recommends that pharmacies create a strategic plan to bolster multiple areas beyond its traditional realms.

“Pharmacy will need to push beyond the boundaries of drug cost containment into other direct patient-centered care areas that change pharmacy’s impact on value to health care,” the report noted. “Innovations, such as development and contribution to new models of care (e.g., direct patient care to specialty care, ambulatory care, population health, and transitions of care) may become performance expectations for pharmacy leaders.”

Moving Ahead

Given the weight of these recommendations, community pharmacies have their work cut out for them.

By focusing on strengthening operations, technology, and communication in 2022, independent pharmacies will be better equipped to handle any changes in volume or demand and keep patients engaged. This, in turn, will help community pharmacies stay competitive against retail giants.

About the Author
Alex Miguel, PharmD, is SVP, GM Enhanced Medication Services at Transaction Data Systems.