Calling a lifeline: Pharmacist access during a pandemic

In the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, all of our societal norms are being thrown on their ear, from employment to school re-openings, sports, theatre and music, and more.

So of course is healthcare. To date, some practices have closed altogether or reopened with fewer staff, shorter hours and time-consuming new processes that expand disinfecting procedures while improving social distancing. For your practice’s business, that not only means fewer patients you can see in a day; it’s also affecting how you effectively deal with the needs of your patients who are still wary of leaving their homes, their safe spaces.

With all of our advances, who ever thought we’d be in this kind of mess in the 21st century??

Fortunately, telehealth services like those offered by RxLive are gaining increasing use and acceptance as they fill a safe and effective role in bringing medication reviews and advice to patients in their home environment, safely connecting them to their busy providers during this difficult time.

Supply chain kinks highlight the importance of accessible health care

74 to over 80% of the average U.S. patients take one or more medications. With unemployment at record highs coupled with an aging population, those prescriptions are essential to optimize the medical as well as emotional health of the nation. That’s particularly true during a time of self-isolation which can add depression and anxiety to the mix. Patients are worried about cost as never before, and now safety and drug availability as well.

We’re hearing that too many patients are experiencing significant impact of the pandemic on their regular pharmacy’s supply chain. A refill or new script that used to take hours is now on back order for an unknown number of days or even weeks. Also, past a certain point, a busy retail pharmacist may be reluctant to propose other options for a meds substitution or another pharmacy outside of their network. And patients rightly are afraid to make changes to their drug regimen on their own, halving or skipping doses or trying a change to an OTC vitamin or mineral supplement.

Of the few good things that are arising from this pandemic is a growing acceptance and reimbursement for telehealth — particularly comprehensive medication management services such as those provided by the RxLive team — as literally a lifeline, as contestants used to request from the late Regis Philbin on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

A ‘universal translator’ for medication management

Without question, physicians and their office-based teams are doing an incredible job trying to help patients. So are retail pharmacists, as they deal with a huge spike in customer questions while they’re busy dispensing prescriptions. But the constraints remain.

There are certainly some skills that overlap across your team. But one group set of specialists, clinical pharmacists, bring a broad and deep knowledge base about the complex world of medication management. After all, the body of medical knowledge — which in the mid-20th century doubled every 50 years — today is estimated to be doubling every 73 days. For medications specifically, the FDA reports that last two years alone have had more new meds brought to market than in the last 20-plus years. That doesn’t even count approvals for new dosages or new uses for existing drugs. We’re here as pharmacology experts to take off some of the pressure to you and your team as you work to most efficiently and effectively serve your patient in this rapidly changing world.

Borrowing another page from TV culture, Trekkers and Trekkies should think of us this way: Clinical pharmacists aren’t just a combination of the brilliant Mr. Spock and Dr. “Bones” McCoy; we also combine their knowledge and expertise with another critical aspect of the Enterprise’s scientific marvels: the universal translator. We can explain the latest options to your patients in ways they will understand and can put into use, while also being a communication channel and expert resource that keeps you and the rest of your team up to date with the latest developments in pharmacology, including pharmacogenomics. After all, you wouldn’t want to warp across the universe without these resources at your disposal!

Social determinants of health, safety and access: a lifeline during a difficult time

In a recent blog, we discussed how telehealth can be a window into the social factors that affect a patient’s outcomes…their living situation, transportation, caregivers, eating habits and, yes, what medications they’re taking and how. Talking to them one-on-one from their relaxed and safe home environment, we can help you uncover information they may not give you in a short office visit — information that could have a major impact on how you help them optimize their clinical and financial health.

Through friendly video chats (the preferred method) or phone conversations undistracted by office activity in your office, our pharmacists bring services to patients in the security of wherever they’re safely quarantining. Then we rapidly share information and recommendations with you — usually directly into your electronic health record — to help ensure continuity of care. And most often, services are delivered at no cost to the patient or provider.

Most important, in an era of a life-threatening pandemic and beyond, telehealth medication management services are a safe and effective lifeline to patients who could feel cut off from the rest of a stressed-out world, dealing with that heightened level of loneliness, depression and anxiety.

Broad bi-partisan support for more telehealth post-pandemic

As the value of telehealth continues to prove itself, we’re already seeing proposed legislation to expand its usage once the pandemic is under control. The Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act introduced last month with bi-partisan support seeks to expand and make permanent many temporary pandemic-era rules for telehealth services and reimbursement payments. Other bills have jumped on the bandwagon to deal with related aspects of expanding telehealth as another tool in your arsenal to delivering best outcomes. See below for some resources and updates.

We’ll keep you informed as things progress. In the meantime, get in touch with us to see if we can help you navigate the complexities of comprehensive medication management in a challenging and quickly evolving world.

Resources and news updates

Kristen Engelen, PharmD
Kristen Engelen, PharmD, is the chief pharmacy officer of RxLive and a certified consultant pharmacist; she has over a decade of experience in retail pharmacy settings. Kristen became an RxLive co-founder because of her passion for geriatric pharmacy, with a focus on the intersection of pharmacy and aging.