Why more alternative care sites are leveraging remote pharmacy services

As patient volumes increasingly shift to non-acute settings, providers are looking to expand the pharmacy's reach to provide a consistent continuity of care beyond the hospital. Clinical pharmacy work such as medication reconciliation and patient education, among others, have the added benefit of maximizing care continuity which can improve medication adherence. 

Though pharmacy's importance in the care continuum is well understood, many alternate care sites don’t have the resources available to provide on-site pharmacy services 24/7. As a result, more providers are executing remote pharmacy services to supplement on-site staff to improve patient outcomes, explained Kelly Morrison, director of remote and retail pharmacy services at Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health. 

Here, Ms. Morrison describes how providers are leveraging remote pharmacy services in a variety of post-acute care settings. 

Editor's Note: Responses were edited for length and clarity. 

Question: Where are you seeing remote pharmacy services being leveraged to improve patient access to medication?

Kelly Morrison: Historically, remote pharmacy services were primarily leveraged in hospitals to supplement hospital pharmacy teams; particularly those that did not provide 24/7 pharmacy services. While there is still a demand for remote pharmacy services in acute care facilities, remote support is now being extended to post-acute care settings, as well. At Cardinal Health, we've seen an expansion of remote pharmacy services beyond acute care into behavioral health and long-term care facilities, community health centers, retail pharmacies, residential settings and other alternate care sites. This shift is due, in part, to the changing reimbursement landscape driving the need for hospitals to follow patients back into the community—and even to their homes—to improve adherence to patient care plans. This requires collaboration   with providers in the community to expand pharmacies’ reach to align with the patient throughout the care continuum. However, it’s often a challenge for post-acute facilities in particular to provide 24/7 pharmacy services to patients. As a result, remote pharmacy models are a cost-effective solution to support these sites, to help drive medication adherence and ensure patient safety for their patients. 

Q: Many people think of leveraging remote pharmacy services for medication order entry and verification. What other remote pharmacy services are possible to support patient care?

KM: Remote pharmacy services can be leveraged in several ways. The first is that they can be used to support medication reconciliation, which is critical, especially if a patient has multiple providers or specialists. To create a coordinated care experience, a patient's profile of medications should be evaluated holistically. Clinical pharmacists are experts in providing this oversight; intervening when necessary to eliminate duplicate therapies and preventable adverse drug events. 

Another way remote pharmacy services can be leveraged is to ensure effective patient counseling. More and more health systems today have a pharmacist consult directly with patients to educate them on their medication(s) prior to being discharged from the hospital. The goal of the counseling is to ensure that patients understand what they are taking, why they are taking it and how to take it properly to improve medication adherence when the patient heads back into the community; which, ultimately drives improved outcomes. Remote pharmacists can be leveraged to provide the counseling through teleconferencing technology or by supplementing on-site pharmacist resources, as they are shifted to work more directly with patients.

Remote pharmacy services can also assist caregivers and patients with clinical questions in post-acute facilities where pharmacy may not operate 24/7. This is where remote pharmacies can be invaluable. In addition to clinical information, remote pharmacy teams can process new medication orders after-hours and coordinate immediate delivery when necessary. 

Q: What are the benefits of remote pharmacy services to community healthcare providers?KM: Ultimately, remote pharmacy teams supplement on-site pharmacies to help drive medication adherence and support the facilities’ quality initiatives regarding expanded patient care. When remote pharmacy services are utilized, it allows community healthcare providers to really maximize their reimbursements via improved medication adherence, which drives positive outcomes; therefore, reducing overall healthcare spend. 

A remote pharmacy model is also a great asset to use in community pharmacies or acute pharmacies to scale up and scale down staffing in times of need. Oftentimes, a facility may suddenly get a surge in volume, making it difficult for it to manage and produce timely order fills and refills for patients. Being supported on an ad-hoc basis by a remote pharmacy team allows the on-site pharmacy teams in both acute and post-acute settings to maintain service levels and therefore, patient safety and quality care, despite sudden demands in order volume.Another key benefit of remote pharmacy services is to help the facility be prepared for emergency coverage needs. Remote pharmacy services have become an essential part of hospitals and community pharmacies' emergency preparedness and contingency planning. This year has been filled with many challenges, including a pandemic, civil unrest and natural disasters such as wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes. Many facilities have been able to leverage remote teams to help them during these crises when staff is unable to get on site. In summary, whether an acute care pharmacy in a health system, a retail community pharmacy or an alternate care pharmacy in a behavioral health or long-term care facility, all patients benefit from a collaborative care approach that provides a consistent level of care throughout the continuum. Remote pharmacy models optimize patient safety and quality of care delivery to help ensure optimal patient outcomes.  

To learn more about Cardinal Health remote pharmacy services capabilities visit cardinalhealth.com/remotepharmacyservices.

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