The need for pharmacists to return to a more clinically-focused role became apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic revealed gaps in patient access to care across the country.
We’ve both worked as pharmacists and that means we’ve both spent time trading phone calls and faxes with physicians and patients in order to fill a single prescription. Now, imagine repeating that process dozens of times, if not more, every day for traditional medications. Never mind the twists and turns of the specialty medication roller coaster.
Regardless of venue, the time pharmacists and prescribers spend on manual processes to help a patient start their medication is burdensome. And it’s among the reasons we are facing an alarming shortage of physicians, as 1 in 5 plan to leave their practice within 2 years.
There is good news is that technology can address the causes of provider burnout and simultaneously better equip care teams to deliver more accessible and comprehensive patient care.
Time is of the essence for physicians, pharmacists, and patients
The challenges of traditional prescribing are intensified with specialty medications. The detailed clinical information required to fill a specialty prescription means that it can take more than 2 weeks and up to 3 or 4 weeks before a patient starts therapy, according to a survey of specialty prescribers and pharmacists.
The administrative workload is likely to increase as drug manufacturers are anticipated to launch at least 50 drugs per year through 2025, with the majority being specialty drugs. That means that the need to dramatically expand automation in the prescribing process may soon reach crisis levels with more than half of physicians experiencing at least 1 symptom of burnout, workforce shortages causing 89% of health-system pharmacies to call on pharmacists to take on pharmacy technician duties, and 48% of retail pharmacies having reduced services to address the shortage.
Implementing technology that automates burnout-causing administrative work, such as eliminating phone calls and faxes that pharmacists and physicians would otherwise make each day to chase down information and fill out paper forms. The time spent on administrative work should instead be focused on counseling patients through their health issues and getting patients started on their medication sooner—the reasons why most providers go into health care in the first place.
Trusted by their patients, pharmacists deserve a more prominent spot on the care team
Technology changed how we deliver health care for the best. In just 2 decades, we’ve seen what now feels like archaic paper prescriptions transform into more than 2 billion prescriptions delivered electronically each year. In some ways, the technology propelling health care forward is also allowing us to return to providing clinical care close to home—just like community pharmacists did just decades ago.
The need for pharmacists to return to a more clinically-focused role became apparent as the COVID-19 pandemic revealed gaps in patient access to care across the country. Fortunately, the gaps were quickly filled by pharmacists who were authorized to provide vaccinations and do some limited prescribing.
The result? Pharmacists are increasingly viewed as trusted care collaborators and have what it takes to step in:
More than counting to 5, pharmacists can expand patient access to health care
Research shows that 9 in 10 Americans live within 5 miles of a pharmacy. An analysis of high-risk patients found that they visited their community pharmacy an average of 35 times per year, compared to 4 visits to their primary care provider and 9 visits to specialists.
As patients continue turning to their pharmacist for more of their health care needs, technology needs to be in place to support this shift by alleviating administrative burdens in both traditional and specialty prescribing through automation and ensuring access to the right clinical patient information at the right time.
Instead of spending weeks tracking down patient information to obtain prior authorization for specialty medications, technology is supporting specialty pharmacists and retail pharmacists. With improved access to patient-specific information, they are able to find less-costly medications. Pharmacists have become a stronger part of care teams helping patients manage diseases such as diabetes and hypertension and even patients with multiple comorbidities.
With technology that simplifies provider workflows, pharmacists and physicians gain back time to do what they do best—provide more comprehensive care for their patients.
About the Authors
Frank Harvey is CEO of Surescripts.
Cecelia Byers, PharmD, is clinical product advisor for Specialty at Surescripts.