How a Canadian Pharmacist Leveraged the Web to Answer Patient Questions
We spoke with him to find out how he got the idea for the site, how it works and what his plans are for the future.
Alexandre Chagnon is a Canadian pharmacist with an idea that could impact how pharmacy consultation services are delivered globally. He founded the website Question Pour Un Pharmacien (Ask Your Pharmacist), which allows patients to pose drug and health questions to a network of pharmacists throughout Canada.
Pharmacy Times spoke with him to find out how he got the idea for the site, how it works and what his plans are for the future.
It all started in 2013 when I was working as a hospital pharmacist and a relief pharmacist a few months after my graduation. I noticed that a lot of my patients were seeking health- and drug-related information online and that there were too few health care professionals out there to make sure they got the right information.
I decided to call myself an ''on-call pharmacist'' and created the website called Question Pour un Pharmacien (French for “Ask Your Pharmacist”) to start providing teleconsultations using SMS-like technologies. The service was and still is free for patients and every consultation is anonymized in order to be published and reach a maximum number of patients. Eighteen months later, we have more than
on the website whose answers have reached more than 13,000 patients.
Since then, with the help of social media, we have been able to showcase that the expertise of pharmacists goes well beyond pill dispensing and covers a range of drug and health topics.
What was the start-up process like?
It was hard because they were no such services in America. Only physicians and nurses were offering teleconsultations at that time.
How does Ask Your Pharmacist work?
First, all patients can read answered questions using our Google-like search bar (shown above). If they can’t find the answer they are looking for, then they can ask a question by providing general information (name, gender, age, zip code and email).
The question is sent to the 3 nearest community-based pharmacists, using our “proximity algorithm.” Those pharmacists receive an email in which a link to the website chat room is inserted. This is where the bidirectional, asynchronous conversation takes place.
When the question is answered, the patient receives an email notification and can see which nearby pharmacist was devoted enough to provide a reliable answer using our innovative service. Every question is answered in 24 hours or less using this technique.
Here's a look at my profile, as seen by a patient after receiving my answer:
What’s the business model for Ask Your Pharmacist?
We recently demonstrated that our service is saving a lot of costly consultations, and we are very excited about it. As a matter of fact, the website seems to have enabled pharmacists to reduce emergency room consultations (2% of patients said so), walk-in clinic visits (19% of patients said so), non-urgent telephone helpline calls (32% of patients said so) and family physician visits (37% of patients said so).
The business model is to scale the service up and receive a fee-for-consultation paid by the government based on our performance. It is a hybrid model between United Kingdom's NHS 111 chatbot and HealthLinkBC telephone-based pharmacist services that can be found here in Canada.
Considering the fact that every answer provided using Ask Your Pharmacist is accessible to other patients, the savings are exponential - and so is the remuneration potential for pharmacists. As an example, my response to the question “Do I have to take a new dose if I threw up 45 minutes after taking my azithromycin?” has been seen by 1,000 patients since March 2015.
Interestingly, the website also allows many ‘’pharmacist-naive’’ patients to connect with a pharmacist. Of this population, 91% wouldn’t have called a pharmacist and 48% wouldn’t have consulted a pharmacist in person if this service was not available. It is a huge win for pharmacists to be available online.
Why does this business work in Canada? What created the demand for it?
Where there is Internet, there are patients looking online for health- and drug-related information. Here in Canada, 9 out of 10 patients are searching for this information online. Also, 4 out of 5 patients in the United States are comfortable connecting with a health care professional using teleconsultation. It seems to me that there is demand for such a service anywhere that there are pharmacists and the Internet.
Do you plan on expanding globally?
I think that such a website could be very interesting for all major stakeholders in the world. It helps to:
- Create reliable information for patients on the Internet in an era in which ''fake news'' is omnipresent and potentially damaging;
- Save money on health care costs;
- Generate demand for pharmacists’ services.
That being said, I'm working on a new version of the website in which patients from outside Canada can get in touch with a pharmacist using Internet. First stop, France. The United States will come after that. To complete the rollout in the United States, we plan to work very closely with a local pharmacist who will manage the service in his or her state. Finding those pharmacists will provide me with the opportunity to meet a lot of great individuals and is a very stimulating quest.
Thanks to innovations in health care delivery created by pharmacists like Alexandre, pharmacists are able to keep pace with today’s technology-driven healthcare landscape and provide needed information for on-the-go patients. And, services such as Ask Your Pharmacist will provide alternate or additional job opportunities that allow pharmacists to maintain flexibility, earn extra income, work from home and ultimately, design the life they want.