Welcome to the Future of Pharmacy

April 21, 2021
Raymond McCall, BPharm

Supplements, Technician Supplement April 2021, Volume 2, Issue 1
Pages: 52

Here are 5 ways technology is rapidly revolutionizing the day-to-day role of technicians and pharmacists.

Twenty-five years ago, the pharmacy was a very different place.
When I started as a retail pharmacist in the mid-1990s, each patient had a paper chart, and if a pharmacy professional needed information about medication history, it required exhaustive thumbing through stacks of files. There were few cell phones and no information software to store patient records or pharmacy applications. I dreamed of the day when my staff members and I could spend more time devoted to direct patient care, and the fax machine helped buffer the struggles in the meantime.

Fast-forward to today, and I am the chief strategy officer for fast-
growing digital pharmacy Medly. It is a technology-enabled solution that not only offers adherence metrics, automatic refill management, and
prior authorization support, but also allows patients to retrieve their prescriptions the same day without having to leave their homes. The idea of a tech-centric pharmacy is no longer a pipe dream; it’s something that fuels a billion-dollar industry.

Technology has revolutionized the day-to-day role of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. Patient records are now stored online, prescriptions are received digitally, instructions are automatically printed and labeled, and payment is done via credit or debit cards.

With more than 4.55 billion prescriptions filled last year in the United States alone, demand is higher than ever.1 That means innovation must follow suit. Here are 5 ways digital-first pharmacies are answering
that call, changing the role of pharmacists and techs, and driving the future of pharmacy.

Improving medication adherence. Medication nonadherence is an out-of-control epidemic, with 75% of Americans having trouble taking their medication as directed.2 Between $100 billion and $300 billion of avoidable health care costs have been attributed to nonadherence in the United States annually.3 During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, 36% of Americans are forgoing their medications to pay for essentials.4 Patient interactions often start when individuals pick up their prescriptions and stop the when they sign the receipt. But it is what happens afterward that can be pivotal for positive patient outcomes.

Widening access to care. Before the pandemic, an estimated 100 million Americans lacked access to pharmacies, living in what public health officials have dubbed “pharmacy deserts.”5 COVID-19 has only exacerbated this trend, as underperforming stores have closed.6 This is reflected even in urban areas, with 70 Duane Reade stores shutting their doors in New York City just last year.7 With many staying at home because of concerns of con- tracting COVID-19, reaching patients and getting them their medications has never been more challenging. Technology has undoubtedly played a role in bridging this gap, but even telehealth still struggles to achieve widespread adoption. To illustrate, 38% of Medicare beneficiaries are not prepared for video telehealth visits, and even with social support, the percentage is 32%.8

Pharmacists often lead the pack in terms of patient trust in the health care industry.9 Medly took this information and asked: How can we connect the patient and the pharmacist, at any time of the day, while allowing patients to receive their prescriptions on demand and provide support to take their medications as prescribed? Through Medly’s platform, patients can always reach pharmacists by phone or text or by walking into one of our Medly pharmacies.

To solve the issue of last-mile delivery and proper access to a pharmacy, Medly crafted its own delivery logistics software and enlisted tech-savvy delivery drivers it calls “ambassadors.” They field questions about Medly on the spot and connect patients to the right resources. This proves that technology has the power to transform traditional career roles while simultaneously widening access to proper care.

A growing role for techs. Technicians represent one of the fastest-growing professions and technology is positively shaping the role’s future.10 As technology streamlines and eliminates burdensome administrative duties that typically fall on techs, the role will change in several fundamental ways.

Increasingly, techs will take an active role in overseeing and managing software and other technology. They could soon be trained and certified in operating machines that dispense medications, fill prescriptions, and use software that tracks, manages, and even purchases inventory.

Techs will also focus more on clinical care, handle prior authorizations, and follow up with patients on quality metrics, such as adherence, vaccination status, and other therapeutic surrogate outcomes. Additionally, techs will be key in helping identify and target patients who could benefit from a pharmacist intervention.

Techs will also take more of a role in auditing and assisting in regulatory compliance. This role is critical to ensuring that a pharmacy meets quality metrics. This is important in pharmacies such as Medly that work with 340B-accredited organizations or Medicaid patients.

Reducing administrative burden for pharmacists. Historically, pharmacy management systems make it hard for personnel to do their jobs because third-party software requires constant interface switching when moving from one task to another. Additionally, being understaffed in cha- otic workplaces in traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies make it difficult to answer phones, call doctors and insurance companies, counsel patients, fill prescriptions, give flu shots, meet corporate performance metrics, staff the drive- through, work the register, and be responsible for testing for and vaccinating against a deadly pandemic.11

A one-stop-shop solution. Pharmacies carry medications critical for people requiring complex therapies in the fields of dermatology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology, and rheumatology, and for those living with HIV/AIDs. Pharmacists must think about making it easier for immunodeficient patients to get their medications. Specialty medications can be complex to take, and Medly pharmacists are readily available and equipped to provide support or handle questions because of the company’s proprietary platform.

Medly recently partnered with nonprofit Buddies of New Jersey to assist in same-day delivery of antiretroviral therapy medications to those living with HIV/AIDS, showing the power of tech-backed delivery solutions for vulnerable populations.

Gone are the days where patients pick up the phone and just hope the pharmacist answers. Welcome to the future of the pharmacy, one that uses innovation to rethink how pharmacies operate to put patients’ needs front and center.

Raymond McCall, BPharm, is the chief strategy officer at Medly Pharmacy in Brooklyn, New York.

REFERENCES

  1. Total number of retail prescriptions filled annually in the United States from 2013 to 2025 (in billions). Statista. February 4, 2021. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/261303/total-number-of-retail-prescriptions-filled-annually-in-the-us/
  2. Benjamin RM. Medication adherence: helping patients take their medicines as directed. Public Health Rep.2012;127(1):2-3. doi:10.1177/003335491212700102
  3. Iuga AO, McGuire MJ. Adherence and health care costs. Risk Manag Healthc Policy.2014;7:35-44. 2014.doi:10.2147/RMHP.S19801
  4. Adams K. 36% of Americans forgo medications to pay for essentials, survey says. Becker’s Hospital Review. February 15, 2021. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/pharmacy/36-of-americans-forgo-medications-to-pay-for-essentials-survey-says.html
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  7. Silvester J. I for one will miss the 70 Duane Reades that closed this year. New York.December 30, 2020. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.curbed.com/2020/12/the-chain-stores-that-closed-in-nyc-in-2020.html?utm_campaign=curbed.socialflow&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_content=curbed
  8. George J. Telehealth boom misses older adults. Medpage Today.August 4, 2020. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://www.medpagetoday.com/practicemanagement/telehealth/87901
  9. Salazar D. Survey: pharmacists lead pack when it comes to patient trust. Drug Store News. July 12, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://drugstorenews.com/pharmacy/survey-pharmacists-lead-pack-when-it-comes-patient-trust
  10. Gazda P. Evolving roles for pharmacy technicians. Pharmacy Purchasing & Products. April 2020. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://www.pppmag.com/article/2534#:~:text=As%20technology%20and%20training%20have,ED%20and%20acute%20care%20units.
  11. Lange JM. How chaos at chain pharmacies is putting patients at risk. The New York Times. January 31, 2020. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/health/pharmacists-medication-errors.html?
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