The edges of a puzzle typically come together first. This makes sense for pharmacy technology, too — think about the way that advances in technology have traditionally fit into place. I’ve experienced many of the changes in pharmacy technology firsthand, having spent more than 20 years in business development and strategic partnerships for a retail drug forecasting service, as well as in sales and branding for a chain of retail pharmacies.
There are good reasons to be optimistic about pharmacy technology. Think about what big data is bringing to the table. Health care data now funnels in from various sources, including electronic health records, smartphone apps, wearable devices, and insurance claims. As data from these sources is aggregated and unified at the patient level, there’s a tremendous upside for specialty pharmacists in terms of the potential for increased cost savings and better decision making — two factors that can favorably impact their bottom line.
Technology is making a game-changing difference by any measure. Here are the pieces of the pharmacy technology puzzle to look for:
• New frameworks for personalized treatment: Advances in building DNA profiles, analyzing pharmacogenetic information, and other genetic tests are already contributing to the cause. As Carolyn Abraham wrote for The Globe and Mail in Canada, “Now that reading patients’ DNA has become cheap and easy … pressure is mounting to make gene-guided prescriptions a regular part of publicly funded medicine.”
On the pharmacy level here in the United States, we’re seeing a trend where big data provides much-needed checks and balances, which leads to reductions in human error in billing and coding. Just as significantly, many are predicting that the industry is moving into “a new era of drug safety”— one energized by data-driven decision making, according to a 2015 Becker’s Hospital Review article. The same article states that “early adopters are embracing the methodology and technology to improve drug decision making and safety.” This data-driven decision-making supplies a direct new pathway for improving the customer experience, reducing the chances of complications and unplanned hospitalizations arising from improper drug interactions.
• Completing the digital health circle: As the broader picture begins to emerge, pharmacists will likely increasingly be called upon to provide greater levels of oversight — something that’s already on the radar with the emergence of wearable health monitors, which are already having a profound impact on medication adherence. According to the results of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, as reported by Pharmacy Times in 2015, “Data remotely generated was effective in guiding patient assessment and management for positive outcomes.”
I believe the takeaway for pharmacists is clear: The ability to leverage digital health technologies represents another important avenue in promoting positive outcomes. Relationships matter. And they continue to go hand in hand with what Pharmacy Times refers to as “the opportunity to assess patient data, in real-time, and use it to help guide care.”
• Trends in automated technology: Human error is a fact of life, but it need not be a factor in tasks where automation has the upper hand. As the costs have come down, automated technologies are now within reach of more pharmacies. Dispensing records, for example, can now be automatically updated and linked to databases to improve regulatory compliance, medication adherence, and insurance reimbursement.
In attempting to solve the pharmacy technology puzzle, perhaps there is no better starting point than the technology-based pieces that “cover the corners” of medication compliance. Here are two technologies that pharmacists can use to help with patient adherence:
1. Mobile medical apps: It stands to reason that medication adherence can improve when you can watch patients take their medications. That’s precisely what one mobile medical app allows providers to do. As described in a May 2018 article on the Pharmacy Learning Network, the app enables patients to record themselves taking prescribed doses; then, it sends the videos to a secure server on the cloud for providers to review.
In a pilot study, the app “proved to be a cost-effective and convenient option for ensuring medication compliance,” according to Dr. Samuel Holzman. The study offers a glimpse of what the future of mobile medical apps may look like and shows their potential for closing the loop between patients, providers, and pharmacists.
2. Smart pill bottles: According to Pharmacy times, sensors in the packaging itself can assess when patients access any given prescription and detect when it’s time for a refill based on the weight of the bottle. This technology can be used in conjunction with other online platforms to enhance adherence rates.
When it comes to solving the pharmacy technology puzzle, I believe the key challenge for every stakeholder will be bringing the pieces together to enhance the patient-provider relationship from different angles. The first step in solving the puzzle is cutting it down to size. The second is learning to manage, integrate and distribute data effectively. And the third is making the investment in software that does the heavy lifting of breaking down analytic information into manageable parts.
The puzzle may be far from complete. Yet when seen in the light of trendsetting technologies, how to proceed becomes more apparent. All it takes is finding your edge.
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