How Aurora Health Care capitalized on improving patient access through telepharmacy

Many hospitals and health systems are increasingly turning to telemedicine solutions to optimize costs and strengthen patient engagement. Telemedicine can also be leveraged to improve pharmacy services by enabling pharmacists to provide pharmaceutical care services to a wider range of patients and improve outcomes.

On Aug. 21, Becker's Hospital Review hosted a webinar sponsored by TelePharm, a Cardinal Health company. The two speakers, Adam Chesler, director of regulatory affairs at Cardinal Health, and Ibrahim Abu-Arqoub, director of specialty pharmacy operations for Aurora Pharmacy, discussed how hospitals and health systems are leveraging telepharmacy solutions to expand pharmacy care services and better utilize their existing pharmacy staff to reach more patients.

Dr. Chesler noted preliminary telepharmacy solutions were limited to one-on-one audiovisual consultations between patients and pharmacists. However, TelePharm's solutions — and more recent iterations of telepharmacy solutions — enable pharmacists to provide HIPAA-secure, any-to-any remote prescription verification and live video counseling to patients, among other uses. The greatest benefits of telepharmacy, according to Dr. Chesler, are that it allows hospitals and health systems to provide patients in medically underserved areas with access to pharmaceutical care while maximizing pharmacists' capabilities to improve adherence and outcomes.

"Think about patients who may take two or more buses to get to your clinics and [then are] required to take two more buses to get to the pharmacy to fill their prescriptions. They may not be getting them filled," Dr. Chesler said. "For every location you look at and say, 'A pharmacist would be great there but it just doesn't make fiscal sense, you can now provide access to a pharmacist through telepharmacy."

Aurora Pharmacy, part of Advocate Aurora Health, implemented its own telepharmacy solution in 2011 and has since expanded to encompass 21 telepharmacy locations. Mr. Abu-Arqoub said the system's initial decision to build and incorporate its own telepharmacy solution, and later integrate TelePharm products into the organization's workflow, resulted from patients' and providers' repeated requests for more services.

"Providers and patients kept asking for more outpatient pharmacy services. In some situations, we found that there was a reasonable need for pharmacy presence, but the [patient] volumes were not there to support a traditional pharmacy and the costs that come with that. Some clinics did not have any outpatient pharmacies for miles, and that was a burden on our patients we needed to find a solution for," he said.

Mr. Abu-Arqoub said the transition to telepharmacy operations was ambitious because it involved incorporating an entirely different operational model, one with which providers and pharmacists were not necessarily familiar. Some employees expressed reservations about the transition and concern over what it would mean for their jobs with the health system. However, Mr. Abu-Arqoub noted the use of telepharmacy not only saved pharmacists and technicians' jobs, but also created new positions.

"We have to keep in mind that telepharmacy presents a significant change from traditional retail pharmacy. Pharmacists felt they were losing control, while technicians thought they were being asked to do more than what they should," he said. Over time, employees embraced the benefits of telepharmacy and welcomed the new workflow as it allowed pharmacists to focus on clinical activities and technicians to increase their sphere of responsibility.

Under the new model, Advocate Aurora Health created a remote hub housing five to six pharmacists, each responsible for overseeing operations at roughly four pharmacies. While the experience of opening a telepharmacy did not differ immensely from opening a traditional one, Mr. Abu-Arqoub said the success of the new model came down to employees' willingness and ability to adapt to the changing environment. More patients are now able to receive pharmaceutical care services, improving patient satisfaction and therapy outcomes.  

"The whole goal of the change was to capitalize on the human potential. We need every employee, pharmacist and technician to be able to practice at the top of their license within the legal borders," he added.

To view to the webinar click here.

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