The pharmacy profession is rapidly shifting. The pharmacist of yesterday was regarded as an individual who simply dispensed prescribed medications and counseled patients on those medicines. This work has been compensated at a dwindling rate. With swift advances in technology, the pharmacist of tomorrow is moving toward a more involved clinical role.
Pharmacists are essential contributors to a person’s holistic health.. In addition to medication management, pharmacists will become more engaged with the clinical aspects of patient care, with a focus on disease prevention. Future trends and innovations will afford pharmacists the opportunity to utilize their skills to become more integrated within a patient’s overall health strategy; thereby, improving that patient’s healthcare outcomes.
The Role of a Future Pharmacist
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has best summarized the ideal future of pharmacists. They hold that pharmacists should shift their services from merely dispensing medicine to providing direct healthcare services.
The emergence of new technologies will free up pharmacists and technicians from the time-consuming counting and identity checking of hundreds or thousands of prescriptions per day. Many experts predict the rise of booths that can dispense medicine via smart robots. Technologies like augmented reality (AR) and big data will aid the pharmacist in a quick and seamless quality assurance verification. This gives the technician more time to deal with insurance issues and the pharmacist more time for clinical duties such as vaccine administration, patient counseling and education, and working with other members of a patient’s healthcare team to alter treatment approach and therapies that can reduce patients’ risk of future cardiovascular events, cancer, and even premature death..
The key to expanding the scope of a pharmacist’s role is to take advantage of the untapped potential and tasks a pharmacist is equipped to perform. A report by Deloitte recognizes three specific areas where pharmacists can specialize in order to evolve their role and to “perhaps even to become the next generation of primary care providers (PCPs):” digital, medical, and behavioral specializations.
In the digital path, pharmacists become crucial players to bridge technology and medicine. A prime example is the advent of mobile and wearable technologies and their associated apps, which can give all healthcare personnel access to a patient’s health data, including information on movement, blood pressure how often they access their medicine bottles, diagnostics, clinical laboratory results, and full-scale viewing ability of a patient’s medical records. Online and digital medical record access tools allow the patient to communicate directly with providers to ask questions and request appointments and prescriptions.
The second path is medical. Pharmacists of the future increase access to quick, affordable healthcare in a familiar location. Pharmacists are trained and ready to partner with other providers to treat and manage chronic diseases. With mobile diagnostic devices (e.g. point-of-care testing devices that diagnose ailments such as strep throat or COVID-19), pharmacists can help patients avoid a trip to urgent care or a hospital emergency department. Future practitioners will be armed with big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to determine customized treatment plans by analyzing a person’s DNA or monitoring their patient community’s drug adherence.
The last path is behavioral. This area deals with identifying social determinants and lifestyle habits contributing to a person’s risk for health complications and disease. In this specialty, pharmacists go beyond a therapeutic role and into a preventive one. An example of this would be the pharmacist actively involved in state prescription drug monitoring programs to prevent substance abuse.
No matter how the field develops, one thing is certain: the future of pharmacy will be remarkably different from its present form. Progress has already begun.
Provider Status / Payment Parity
Decades of pharmacist advocacy has resulted in a beneficial shift on pharmacists’ ability to get paid for services when they bill a health plan directly. This is a drastic change from the 20th century when pharmacists were rarely named in state laws as care “providers”.
Provider status means that a patient can visit and receive care from a pharmacist, and the encounter can be paid to the pharmacist for their services. This occurs in most states today but varies dramatically state-by-state in what pharmacists can treat and how/when they get reimbursed.
Some good news is that there have been over 213 state “provider status-related bills’’ introduced or passed across 43 states. Some of these bills mandate health plans pay pharmacies directly for services rendered. Many states allow for CPAs (collaborative practice agreements) across all kinds of services that authorize pharmacists to prescribe treatments or alter dosing as necessary. Additionally, 20 states, including D.C., allow pharmacists to directly prescribe and dispense hormonal contraception without a CPA. DocStation’s medical billing solution helps manage the payment process for pharmacies.
A shift from Fee-for-Service to Value-based Care
Another radical shift we’re seeing occur throughout the U.S. health system is from fee-for-service to value-based healthcare.
Value-based care is the delivery model where hospitals, clinics, and healthcare practitioners are paid based on a patient’s outcome instead of the volume of services they deliver. Upfront, it means patients spend less money for better health.
However, pharmacies also benefit long term as they compel the ecosystem to focus resources and payment on prevention and maintaining wellness in addition to traditional sickness disease management. Practicing value-based care means that pharmacists can focus more on keeping patients well and get compensated for their contributions in achieving good health outcomes. This deepens the already-trustworthy relationship between patients and pharmacists and elevates the pharmacists’ role as patient advocates.
While a complete shift to a value-based care model is still in motion, pharmacies are well positioned to play a huge role moving forward. DocStation is helping pharmacies navigate this landscape by operating clinical programs at scale and making it easy for pharmacies to participate. The real fun begins when we can take on risk-sharing with payers, but we’ll leave that for another blog article.
A Shift from Hospital to Care at Home
One admittedly positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic was that many healthcare-based technological developments were expedited due to necessity. One such technological development was the expansion of at-home virtual care tools. Care at home is becoming increasingly more popular to the general public and more widely accepted amongst the medical community. A December 2021 study shows that nearly half (49.7 percent) of patients would prefer to do routine testing and medical visits from home.
Who better to virtually monitor at-home-care than pharmacists? Pharmacists who interact with patients via virtual care report having more time to interact with patients, allowing patients to give in-depth information and in turn, allowing the pharmacist to provide crucial support. As a result, utilizing pharmacists for at-home care treatments can translate into timely patient care.
Pharmacists are easily the most accessible provider in the healthcare world, with 90% of Americans living within 5 miles of a pharmacy. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted their accessibility, and through at-home telepharmacy counseling, pharmacists continue to be a convenient and accessible option that frees up doctors’ offices and hospitals for more severe and complex medical cases.
Impact of Future Pharmacy Technology
The use of technology in pharmacy will undoubtedly have the most significant impact in the future. One place we can already see this impact is in pharmacists’ functional and operational duties. The marriage of technology and pharmacy will significantly impact a pharmacist’s day-to-day challenges. According to a recent study, 47% of the pharmacist’s role is automatable and as high as 70% of the pharmacist technician’s role is automatable. By applying better tech and more automation in the pharmacist’s workflow, we can significantly free up time for them and their techs, which will allow for more time spent with patients. DocStation’s platform easily integrates with any source and unifies patient data, giving pharmacists the most comprehensive view of their patients, and thus saving time.
Innovative ideas, devices, and techniques have also been changing the face of medicine and life sciences for years, and they are gradually making their way towards the pharmacy field. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and the University of Sheffield developed an ingestible origami robot. Once swallowed via a pill, the bot unfolds in the patient’s stomach and patches any wounds or removes foreign objects. This innovation opens up the possibility of non-chemical, “mechanical” smart medicines that will undoubtedly require a set of practices and compliance checks.
New diagnostic tools can also perform health checks, even at the pharmacy level. A good example is the Wize Mirror, a smart mirror that can automatically detect signs of cardiovascular risk based on a patient’s facial expressions. The “mirror” uses a computer and machine learning to “perform 3D morphological analysis of the face and recognition of psycho-somatic status both linked with cardio-metabolic risks.” The results of the experiment with the Wize Mirror show that similar lifestyle devices for consumer health self-monitoring and assessment could soon be a reality.
There’s also the emergence of the “food-as-medicine” movement that prescribes supplements based on a person’s genes or biological make-up. For example, a company called Viome provides prebiotic supplements tailored to the person’s microbiome. Viome uses “Metatranscriptomic Sequencing Technology” to not only recognize every microorganism in your gut biome, but also to analyze the activity of these microorganisms. This information is retrieved via an at-home testing kit that is mailed to the patient and then mailed back to the company. In that same vein, it may be shown that gene therapy — the practice of editing a person’s genes to treat illnesses — will quickly become a reality and change pharmacy in the future.
Indeed, the science fiction of yesterday is quickly becoming a reality today. And to survive, future pharmacy practitioners will need to adapt.
Technology will also change future pharmacy by introducing new ways pharmacists and businesses deliver their services. At the forefront of this movement are two innovations: AI/machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Machine learning in pharmacy can use software to gather and use data to become more accurate at predicting outcomes for practitioners. This type of learning will allow predictive analytics and better diagnoses.
For example, at DocStation, we aim to consolidate data and use it to power predictive analytic algorithms. In essence, this allows us to uncover risk factors for illnesses of which we are not yet aware when using conventional methods. This method gives pharmacists a more proactive role in healthcare, rather than just someone who dispenses medicine.
The other significant innovation is the Internet of Things (IoT), which opens up a new field called digital therapeutics. This field involves the use of devices to track a patient’s health. For example, reSET-O is a system that monitors a person at risk for opioid use disorder (OUD) by tracking their usage and triggers. Another, Sleepio, also uses digital therapeutics to help patients suffering from sleep disorders.
AI and IoT combined can help make pharmacy a more comprehensive field. At DocStation, we’re building an app marketplace that consolidates patient data into one platform. This will empower our pharmacy practitioner customers as they navigate and manage a person’s condition.
This movement has already impacted the pharmacy world and is beginning to impact pharmacy operations as well.
The bottom line is that digital information from varying sources will affect the business model of a pharmacy. Future operations will be more than just individual tests and care; instead, the focus will be on better integration into a patient’s overall healthcare.
Compliance Checks for the Pharmacy of the Future
With the transition of pharmacy to the digital realm comes the need for new and updated regulations. New devices and undemonstrated techniques or innovations can introduce benefits and risks, thus requiring regulatory oversight.
Right now, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health is updating its rules and regulations to consider new technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Pharmacy’s transformation to a digital field requires regulatory approval from more than just the FDA. It will now involve several agencies, including the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Digital therapeutic devices also create concerns about data privacy and security. As a result, oversight from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will be needed. This will ensure that patients’ health information is kept secure.
On the other hand, the FDA is concerned with the safety and efficacy of medical treatment, including devices. Apps that treat health conditions, for instance, might carry a high risk if it doesn’t work as intended, so the patient needs to be aware of these risks.
Finally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ensures medical devices and apps don’t mislead patients through false information or exaggerated performance claims. In addition, it also provides data privacy and security for patients.
While this seems to create more red tape and obstacles for healthcare practitioners, it is a small price to pay for the more holistic care pharmacies can provide for patients.
DocStation is at the Forefront of the Future of Pharmacy
Where will pharmacy be in 10 years? While nothing about the future is certain, the pharmacy industry seems to be on an innovative and exciting trajectory as we move forward. Ensuring pharmacists are equipped with the tools they need to adapt is key to the success and relevancy of the pharmacy profession.
DocStation is focused on making these forward-thinking ideas a reality. We provide pharmacists the support they need to shift to value based healthcare services via scheduling, HIPAA-compliant storage, documentation, streamlined clinical workflows, medical claims submission, and revenue cycle management functionality and support, allowing pharmacies to take full advantage of new clinical revenue opportunities. Our solutions extend beyond those for pharmacists, too. We can help improve the efficiency, quality ratings, revenue, and outcomes for healthcare plans including Medicaid and Medicare.
To learn more, visit our website today and sign up for an account.
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DocStation is a technology company that connects payers and pharmacists to run value-based care models. We’re passionate about creating tools to improve health and delivering a delightfully unexpected experience for patients & providers in a world where their experience is usually an afterthought.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society. “Now or never: Shaping pharmacy for the future.” Accessed June 17, 2022.
Deloitte. “The future of pharmacy.” Accessed June 17, 2022.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs.” June 1, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Hardesty, Larry. “Ingestible origami robot.” MIT News Office, May 12, 2016. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Andreu, Yasmina et al. “Wize Mirror — a smart, mutisensory cardio-metabolic risk monitoring system.” Science Direct, July 2016. Accessed June 17, 2022.
Big Data. “How Big Data Is Affecting Pharmacy Practice.” Big Data Analytics News, 27 May 2021, https://bigdataanalyticsnews.com/big-data-affecting-pharmacy-practice/. Accessed July 12, 2022.
Gebhart, Fred. “On the Road to Provider Status.” Drug Topics, Drug Topics, 14 Nov. 2020, www.drugtopics.com/view/road-provider-status. Accessed July 12, 2022.
Berger, Stephanie. “Pharmacists’ Role to Expand amid Pandemic and Provider Shortages.” Columbia — Mailman School of Public Health, 11 Jan. 2022, www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/pharmacists-role-expand-amid-pandemic-and-provider-shortages. Accessed July 12, 2022.
Woodall, Janson, et al. “The Future of Pharmacy.” Quinyx, 2022, www.quinyx.com/blog/the-future-of-pharmacy. Accessed July 12, 2022.