Telepharmacy Benefits Physicians, Small and Rural Hospitals

The emerging telepharmacy industry promises small and rural hospitals the same safeguards and protections of an in-house pharmacist, but at a lower cost.

There’s no doubting the explosive growth of the telehealth and telemedicine market. According to a report by Research and Markets, the global market for telehealth and telemedicine will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 14% through 2018. In dollar terms, that means growing from a 2011 valuation of $13.2 billion to $32.5 billion.

Where might the next growth spurt occur? It could be telepharmacy.

Telepharmacy is the practice of performing medication order verification from a remote setting.

“It’s really a cognitive process that a pharmacist goes through, especially in a hospital or an acute care setting, to make sure that a script that has been written has been reviewed for drug-drug interactions, for potential allergies, or for a variety of other dosage levels,” explains Brian Roberts, CEO of PipelineRx, a provider of cognitive medication management services.

In other words, a safety net for physicians.

Why Telepharmacy?

PipelineRx launched 5 years ago by focusing on rural and community hospitals that typically need pharmacy care at night and on the weekends when prescription volumes drop. As Roberts asks, rhetorically, “Does it make sense for a small hospital running on a small budget to have a pharmacist sitting there for $90 to $100 an hour and be sub-optimized in terms of their work flow?”

Easy question to answer. So, what telepharmacy does is use a single telepharmacist working from home, from a secure HIPAA location, who can be monitoring anywhere from 4 to 6 hospitals at one time. It’s labor sharing because the 4 or 5 hospitals can divvy up the cost of the telepharmacist, thereby saving the small and/or rural hospital significant dollars.

The idea is catching on. Roberts says that telepharmacy is growing north of 20% a year. And he expects that trend to continue as technology continues to improve.

“Technology is so much better now, you can move those scripts into pipeline servers to get read by a remote pharmacist.”

Multiple Benefits

For doctors rounding on their patients and writing scripts in the hospital, expert pharmacy care is now available 24/7. Physicians can be confident that their scripts are being reviewed.

“There are all sorts of studies showing that when we’re in there, the safety and cost savings being generated are somewhere in the nature of about 80% of our costs,” Roberts explains.

In addition to protection/oversight for physicians, Roberts says the turnaround time in reviewing scripts if faster. He says the average time it takes a hospital to read a prescription, get it down to the pharmacy, and have the medication delivered to a patient’s room is upwards of 20 minutes.

“Sometimes as great as an hour.”

The average time using a telepharmacist is 8 minutes. Reducing the turnaround time is beneficial for patients because it enables small and rural hospitals to drive quality standards. It’s also beneficial to the small or rural hospital that no longer has to pay a full-time pharmacist to either be on duty or be on call.

“The hospital is able, if it chooses not to employ that night or weekend pharmacist, to save anywhere between 30 and 70 percent of its labor costs.”

Benefiting Physicians

It’s also beneficial for physicians because the quicker turnaround time results in improved workflow. But there are additional benefits.

“Physicians are able to work more efficiently, and their patients are better taken care of, so potentially fewer lawsuits, another factor,” Roberts says. “Our telepharmacists are at home, they have 3 computer screens up, they’re working in our software, and they’re linked to all the hospitals they’re working with. So that physician who is rounding knows that if there’s any kind of question, pick up the phone, and there’s one dialed number that immediately routes to our pharmacist on duty.”

Roberts expects the growth of telepharmacy to continue. PipelineRx has doubled its number of telepharmacists every year since its inception 5 years ago. And the introduction of its SAAS product, Software As A Service, gives hospitals even more flexibility and opportunities for savings.

“We repurpose our PipelineRx software so that it’s now a client-facing software product,” he explains. “Some hospitals want to start their own telepharmacy business using their own pharmacists, and we’re providing the technology for them to do that. In an era where there’s a lot of hospital consolidation, hospitals are able to reap cost savings without compromising any clinical quality. We’re very excited about that.”