Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist Shortage Boosts Telepharmacy

Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist Shortage Boosts Telepharmacy

Article excerpt

TECHNOLOGY

A few years ago, health systems shied away from telepharmacy because their pharmacists were too busy to take on more work. Now, as the manpower shortage drags on, many of them are rethinking remote dispensing as a way to have one pharmacist serve several outlying clinics.

The impact of the pharmacist shortage caught Telepharmacy Solutions Inc. (TSI) off guard, said Brian Hart, president of the North Billerica, Mass., firm formerly known as ADDS. For the past two years, the dearth of pharmacists has kept potential customers on the sidelines because they were afraid the R.Ph.s they did have were too busy to supervise an automated dispensing unit at an outpatient clinic.

But the light bulb went off after the Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) installed a TSI system to network with several clinics. The central pharmacy at the Valley CHAS Medical Clinic serves five remote clinics in a 100-mile radius as part of a $250,000 grant from the Department of Health & Human Services. Serving 13,500 low-income or rural patients who would otherwise have trouble getting medications, CHAS qualified for the federal 3408 drug discount program as a safety-net healthcare provider.

"Networking allows them to use one pharmacist to cover five or six locations," said Hart. "It's addressing the labor cost component and making the pharmacist more efficient. Telepharmacy is really becoming a tool to extend that individual pharmacist's reach, and it takes geography off the table. The technology had been there all along, but the evolution of thinking in pharmacy seemed to lag about a year behind. We didn't fully anticipate the impact of the pharmacist shortage."

Dealing with 50 different sets of pharmacy regulations has also slowed telepharmacy. The situation improved a few years ago when the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy issued model telepharmacy regulations. Some state pharmacy boards have adopted the NABP model, but others have lagged behind. Hart said, for example, that New Hampshire funded TSI installations to serve towns without pharmacies, but interpretation of the regs has "slowed the process to a crawl."

While the firm is smaller than anticipated, due in part to the R. …

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