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The Importance of Engaging Pharmacists in the Digital Health Space

May 12, 2021
January 17, 2024

It almost goes without saying, but technology has revolutionized the healthcare industry. Digital health’s emergence has led to improved access to health services, greater patient empowerment, and continuity of care. From mobile apps to robust software, patients and providers alike can manage conditions like never before. However, what does digital health look like in the pharmaceutical world?

Most have witnessed what digital health does for emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and even home care patients. These tools not only provide patients with value, but they can also bring in additional revenue. According to the FDA, providers and stakeholders also use digital health tools to

  • Reduce inefficiencies
  • Improve access to care
  • Reduce costs
  • Increase quality and,
  • Make medicine more personalized for patients

There is also great potential for bringing digital health tools to the pharmaceutical industry. A Pharmacy Times article states that “we [pharmacists] are unprepared and have not been engaged in the digital health space”.

Therefore, let’s explore what digital health tools can bring to the pharmaceutical industry. 

The pharmacist role is changing

Before addressing how digital health tools can help pharmacists, it’s also important to note that the pharmacy profession is changing.

Today, physicians have to meet certain quality-based metrics, many of which involve medication therapy management. As a result, physicians lean more on pharmacists to counsel patients regarding medication and adherence. Hospitals are even looking to community pharmacists to assist with reducing readmissions, a metric in several value-based payment arrangements.

The importance of patient-centered pharmaceutical care is growing. Pharmacists are often the last healthcare professionals that patients interact with in the drug chain process. Therefore, they have the ideal predisposition and capacities to provide certain digital health services.

Medication adherence

Medication nonadherence costs the United States approximately $100 billion a year in readmissions and other negative outcomes. For example, in a study testing whether medication adherence could predict 30-day readmissions, patients with low adherence had readmission rates of 20% compared to a readmission rate of 9.3% for patients with high adherence.

Digital health for the pharma industry can help increase medication adherence. For example, smartphones have been a game-changer when addressing nonadherence in the last few years. Patients can receive automated texts/calls to let them know when to take their medications and/or refill their prescriptions. However, today we have the ability to take it even a step further. 

The importance of integration

The EHR is an important tool for a pharmacist, allowing them to check for consistency and correctness of a patient’s medication history. One study actually found that 74% of patients had medication discrepancies between their patient reports and the EHR. Tasks like medication reconciliation are highly dependent upon information technology. Therefore, digital health tools are needed to bridge the gap among patients, providers, and pharmacists.

Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as blood pressure cuffs and glucometers, communicate with EHR-integrated digital health tools to help chronic disease management and take medication adherence to a new level. A study on 326 patients with uncontrolled hypertension showed that home blood pressure telemonitoring with remote pharmacist management lowered blood pressure more than usual care methods.

Pharmacists with this type of access can interpret patient vitals in real-time and communicate with a patient’s primary or speciality care physician to escalate care as needed. Data collected from digital health tools helps to create best practice methods, expand our current understanding of disease, and reduce the use of unnecessary healthcare resources. And while all of this is feasible now, it’s not what’s consistently happening today.

Making the shift

Today, most pharmacists in the community setting have little to no access to clinical data. This ultimately leads to pharmacists being unable to practice at the top of their license. According to Aungst, most pharmacists want to have access to this type of data, but current pharmacy management systems don’t support it.

In addition, most clinical management systems don’t integrate well with EHRs. They have their own access points and portals, which means they essentially operate in silos. The need for digital health tools to work together is critical to adequately managing patient care. 

Digital health tools complement the pharmacist role

In Canada, a study was done to analyze the benefits of provincial drug information systems (DIS), a component of their EHR that stores information about dispensed drugs. In short, pharmacists can review patient medication profiles with the help of this digital health tool. When the pharmacists were asked about the impact of DIS, they noted more than 60% improvement in the following benefits:

  • Access to patient information
  • Pharmacist prescribing activities
  • Conducting medication reviews
  • Continuity of patient care
  • Targeting inappropriate medication use
  • Potential drug-related problems
  • Performing medication reconciliation

Digital health tools just make good business sense

When you really think about it, who better to drive medication adherence interventions than a pharmacy? Pharmacies are in a unique position because of advancing healthcare technologies, and can launch digital health tools that increase adherence efficiencies and prescription sales.

Consider a mobile app that automatically uploads patient data from customers’ various health and wellness devices. Imagine the ability for pharmacists and patients alike to look at a dashboard of one’s medication history, health indicators, and more over time.

The potential of digital health for pharmacists is profound. Consumers are not only motivated to manage their health, but they’re also equipped to do so.

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