By: Alexandra Domatov, Director, Implementation and Partnership Management at Wellstand Health
Pharmacy deserts, areas where the nearest pharmacy is over 15 minutes away, are a reality for between 15 million to 41 million Americans, representing over 40% of counties in the US. This lack of access to essential medications and pharmaceutical services can have serious implications for health outcomes.
The pandemic also altered consumers’ expectations for how they receive healthcare, shifting significant portions of the healthcare experience into the digital world, and placing an even greater burden on the pharmacy network to make medications accessible. Emerging technology can fortunately play a significant role in bridging this gap.
Here are a few ways I believe technology can improve access for people living in pharmacy deserts:
Medication Delivery Systems:
For people living in pharmacy deserts, the ability to order medications electronically and have them delivered to their doorstep not only ensures medication adherence but also eliminates the need for long trips to the pharmacy. However, for this to work effectively, the system must be reliable and capable of delivering the right medications at the right time.
These mail-order pharmacy services should ensure that they stock not only chronic care medications but also urgent medications that may be required for acute conditions. The ability to access a wide range of medications through delivery services ensures that patients do not face additional barriers to their healthcare needs.
Additionally, these pharmacy services should also provide over-the-counter drugs that individuals may need. This requires a well-thought-out system that considers all possible needs of the patients.
Telehealth and Telepharmacy Services:
Pharmacists play a much larger role than just dispensing medications; they look at drug interactions, answer questions about side effects, and provide advice on managing health conditions.
Telehealth, in conjunction with a telepharmacy can play a crucial role in this aspect. Even though patients are now accustomed to chatbots and automated response systems, a true human connection remains vital. Patients should be able to see a face, ask questions, and discuss their concerns about medication adherence, vaccinations, healthcare screenings etc. This human connection helps build trust and ensures that patients can access professional guidance despite the physical distance from a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.
Telepharmacy can also facilitate medication adherence by enabling pharmacists to monitor patients' progress and address any concerns they may have.
Comprehensive Support Services:
It’s not just about delivering the medication. The support services typically available at a brick-and-mortar pharmacy should also be accessible to people living in pharmacy deserts. This includes patient education, personalized consultations, and access to over-the-counter drugs. Integrating educational resources and patient support tools into the telepharmacy or telehealth platforms can empower patients to make informed decisions about their health and medication adherence.
While technology can significantly improve access to pharmacy services in pharmacy deserts, it's essential to ensure a holistic approach that delivers an exceptional patient experience. This means not only delivering the right medications but also providing the necessary support services and maintaining the human connection that is so integral to healthcare. By doing so, we can ensure that care does not become so automated that it loses its personal touch, and patients can continue to learn more about their health and how medications impact them.