How Telehealth Expands Pharmacy Access
The digital revolution has transformed every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate to where we shop to how we visit the doctor. Gone are the days of paging through hard-copy documents, racing to a brick-and-mortar store, or meeting up in person. Thanks to new technological advances everything we need– information, groceries, social connection, and even medical appointments– is only a click away.
Digitization offers us more than mere convenience. It has the potential to bridge the gaps in our healthcare system by expanding access to disenfranchised communities.
Today, it is all too evident that our healthcare system perpetuates and amplifies pernicious inequalities. Barriers such as cost, proximity, and information availability prevent many from getting the medical treatment they need, impacting individual quality of life and mortality rates.
Telehealth removes these barriers. For those who do not live near a health care site, getting transportation to a medical appointment and finding the time to go to that appointment presents a burden that impedes healthcare access. In many US cities like New York, problems of proximity disproportionately impact low-income communities. Studies have demonstrated that low-income neighborhoods– particularly in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island– have fewer healthcare sites like pharmacies and doctors’ offices, creating roadblocks to convenient medical care.
By putting medical appointments online, telehealth platforms eliminate the barrier. With telehealth apps, patients can connect with physicians, discuss their symptoms, and get expert advice from the convenience of their cell phones.
These sorts of applications can also democratize the pharmacy, helping patients who can’t get to a brick-and-mortar store connect with pharmacists and get their medication. Here are three ways telehealth technology can democratize the pharmacy:
- Increasing medication access: Digital-first pharmacies can deliver prescription medication directly to a patient’s doorstep. With one-third of urban neighborhoods designated as pharmacy deserts– or regions far from a pharmacy– going to pick up medication at a pharmacy is a burdensome and inconvenient trek that prevents patients from getting the care they need. Digital-first pharmacies like Medly address access to care by offering free same-day delivery of prescriptions right to a patient’s doorstep making medication access more convenient leading to improved medication adherence
- Promoting medication adherence: Digital-first pharmacies can also leverage telehealth technology to ensure that patients can connect with pharmacists thus improving medication adherence and patient outcomes. Patients inevitably have questions about how to use their medication, worry about potential side-effects, and wonder how they know whether to stop taking a prescription. In fact, 75% of Americans have trouble taking their medication as directed. With patients more likely to trust pharmacists than other healthcare professions, it is critical to offer platforms through which patients can connect with a pharmacist in order to discuss their health. Digital-first pharmacies make it easy and convenient to connect with a trusted pharmacist to talk through questions, and offer patients the opportunity to communicate in their native language. These technologies can ultimately offer all patients the opportunity to speak with trusted pharmacists.
- Putting safety first: As the pandemic demonstrated, going into a brick-and-mortar store can pose significant risks to human health as viruses can spread rapidly between people. This is a particular risk for those who are elderly and immunocompromised. Digital-first pharmacies offer a mechanism to ensure that patients can manage their medication, connect with pharmacists, and select for medication delivery without the health risks of going into a brick-and-mortar store.
As the digital revolution accelerates a transformation in how we live our lives, we can leverage this opportunity to craft a more just and accessible healthcare system. Telehealth technologies have the potential to eliminate barriers to access and ensure that all patients get the medical care they need. In the pharmacy, digitization enables us to reach more patients than ever before, ultimately helping underserved populations get their medication and connect to healthcare professionals.