Pharmacist Workload Expected to Increase Again This Fall: How Technology Can Help


There is a real opportunity for technology to alleviate some of the administrative burdens pharmacists face so that they have more time to focus on patient care.

In the past 18 months, pharmacy-based COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts have added to pharmacists' workloads and made their crucial place on the care team abundantly evident nationwide. The demands on their time have been so steep that as of May 2021, 90% of community pharmacies reported having trouble staffing open positions.

With their workload only expected to increase during the fall season with the possibility of COVID-19 boosters and the annual influenza vaccine roll-out, there is a real opportunity for technology to alleviate some of the administrative burdens pharmacists face so that they have more time to focus on patient care.

One such administrative burden is the effort involved in trying to help patients lower the costs of their prescriptions. A recent survey found that 19% of patients indicate it has become harder to afford medications in the past 18 months. Plus, an overwhelming majority (82%) of pharmacists said the cost of prescriptions is among the most significant issues in health care today.

Without a prescription pricing tool, "How much is this medication going to cost?" can be a difficult and time-consuming question for a pharmacist to answer. To manually gather patient-specific information, such as out-of-pocket costs and prior authorization status, pharmacists must take the time to step out of their workflows—and away from their patients—to deliver the best, most-reliable information possible.

One pharmacy owner shared that it often takes his staff up to 20 minutes to sort through each cost and benefits inquiry. And with one of his pharmacies filling up to 500 prescriptions each day, the burden of questions around cost quickly adds up.

If a medication is not covered or is too expensive, pharmacists need to call their patient's physician to get information necessary to determine coverage and possibly identify alternative medications. In the meantime, the patient may go home, forget about their prescription, and never come back to the pharmacy to pick up their medication.

Prescription abandonment threatens a patient's health, but it also creates problems for pharmacists who must use more time to reverse the prescription claim and dispensing record, return the medication to stock, and potentially dispose of wasted supplies.

Streamlining pharmacists’ access to real-time patient benefit information is one place we can start to help mitigate these issues. A real-time prescription benefit tool gives prescribers and pharmacists easy and timely access to the patient’s benefit information so they can make the best possible care decisions, all within their electronic workflow.

Here are 5 key elements to an effective prescription pricing tool to consider:

1. Real-time, patient-specific benefit data at the point of care

Estimates and third-party data sources can leave too much room for error. An effective prescription pricing tool must include cost and coverage data sent directly from payers that is integrated into the pharmacy’s software so that pharmacists can make fully informed decisions together with their patients.

2. Protection of the prescriber's choice of therapy and the patient's choice of pharmacy

An effective prescription pricing tool should not let outside interests promote or suppress a particular medication option or steer patients away from their preferred pharmacy.

3. Information on therapeutic alternatives

To reduce costs and subsequent medication non-adherence, it's important for pharmacists to be able to see costs for different clinically appropriate therapeutic options.

4. Accurate flagging of medications that require prior authorization

Treatment delays can threaten medication adherence just as much as unexpected costs, so pharmacists should have the information they need to choose a different medication that might not require prior authorization.

5. Seamless transition into the prior authorization process

Because time to treatment is so important, an effective prescription pricing tool should not only display when prior authorization is required but integrate and automate the prior authorization process, reducing administrative work, and speeding time to therapy.

It's clear that pharmacists' workload will remain higher than ever for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, the industry has opportunities to help pharmacists through the pandemic and beyond with up-to-date, interoperable prescription pricing technologies that allow them to do more for patients with less burnout and frustration.

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