Telemedicine: A remote connection
NEW YORK —The doctor and the pharmacist will see you now. Just look into the webcam on the computer.
Spurred by a perfect storm of conditions—a fractured economy that has made some pharmacy labor costs prohibitive, an explosion in new digital communications technologies and a flood of new federal cash to spur the adoption of health information technology—pharmacies, physicians and managed care organizations increasingly are turning to telemedicine to bring real-time care to hard-to-reach patients in remote locations throughout the United States.
Linking distant, far-flung patients in real time with pharmacists by a secure dispensing and two-way video-communications kiosk at a clinic, retail site or even a dedicated room in a city hall—which is the case in at least one small town that lost its sole pharmacy—can mean accessible pharmacy care for millions of patients in rural and small-town settings. The potential benefits of telemedicine go way beyond pharmacy dispensing and video-link counseling, of course. Properly applied, telemedicine—more broadly defined by some as telehealth—can put patients in immediate touch with a whole battery of healthcare professionals for any number of interventions. Those interventions can range from smart phones that monitor a diabetic patient’s glucose levels to a trauma team walking a medic through a triage procedure for a wounded soldier on a battlefield in Afghanistan—and can come through mobile phones, webcams or any other device that opens an instant link between patient and practitioner.
One big impetus for the growth of telemedicine will be the federal government. As part of the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more than $19 billion has been allocated to support the health system’s conversion to electronic record-keeping and health IT—including telemedicine.
Telepharmacy solutions are coming from a slew of technology providers, sometimes in partnership with retail pharmacy chains. For Maple Grove, Minn.-based Thrifty White Drug Stores, its commitment to remote-site dispensing beginning in 2003 was driven by necessity; the high costs of operating a fully staffed pharmacy in some distant, smaller communities were prohibitive.
Thrifty White’s answer: Operate a smaller store with a prescription kiosk, staffed by a technician and monitored by a company pharmacist at a full-service pharmacy dozens of miles away. “Our goal is to provide pharmacy services to these under-served areas and keep the business local” said Gary Boehler, EVP pharmacy operations for Thrifty White.
More recently, another Minnesota pharmacy operator, Sterling Drug, turned to pharmacy automation specialist ScriptPro to install its Telepharmacy unit in the town of Adrian, Minn., after that town lost its one drug store. The unit, staffed by a pharmacy technician, serves the prescription needs of the town’s roughly 1,200 residents from a Sterling Drug location in a larger, nearby town, Worthington, Minn.
“Mail order should not be the answer to these communities,” said Tim Gallager, VP pharmacy operations for Sterling’s parent company, Astrup Drug. “You can expand pharmacy services for less than the cost of opening a new pharmacy and support remote pharmacies without adding staff or recruiting pharmacists.”
Major chains also are weighing in. Rite Aid unveiled a new online chat capability in early August that gives customers enrolled in its wellness+ rewards program direct, 24-hour access to a Rite Aid pharmacist. Wellness+ members can access the feature, called “Ask a Pharmacist—Chat Live Now,” via a link on their online personal health page.
Walgreens also rolled out a new, real-time link between patients and pharmacists early last month called Walgreens Pharmacy Chat. The service puts customers in touch with a pharmacy staff member via an online link, 24/7.
The Apothecary Shops earns spot on Inc.’s fastest-growing private companies list
PHOENIX Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy isn’t the only one to earn a spot on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing private companies.
The Inc. 5000 also listed specialty pharmacy The Apothecary Shops, ranking 2,394. That marked a jump of 322 spots from last year and 1,682 spots from 2008 in its fourth annual appearance on the list.
Drug Store News reported Thursday on Diplomat’s inclusion on the list.
“It’s no secret that we have undertaken a very aggressive growth strategy for The Apothecary Shops, but our approach, particularly in a down economy, has been targeted and strategic to be in a solid position to leverage that growth when the economy turns,” The Apothecary Shops president Keith Cook said. “Our movement on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies reflects the success of our strategic direction.”
Type 2 diabetes linked with cognitive impairments, study shows
WASHINGTON A small study conducted by Canadian researchers found factors that may link Type 2 diabetes with such cognitive impairments as dementia.
Older adults with diabetes who also have high blood pressure, walk slowly or lose their balance, or believe they’re in bad health, are more likely to have poorer cognitive functions than those without these problems, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada and published in the September issue of Neuropsychology
The study of older Canadians — 41 adults with Type 2 diabetes, ages 55 to 81 years, and 458 matched healthy controls (ages 53 to 90 years) — found that systolic blood pressure, a low combination score for gait and balance, and a patient’s own reports of poor health all played a statistically significant role in the relationship between diabetes and cognitive impairment.
“Awareness of the link between diabetes and cognition could help people realize how important it is to manage this disease, and to motivate them to do so,” said co-author Roger Dixon, PhD, of the University of Alberta.
Type 2 diabetes has been found by other researchers to nearly double the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, said Dixon, who studies how health affects cognition in aging. As diabetes becomes more common, this heightened risk could dramatically hike the number of older people with dementia.
The prevalence of diabetes in the United States for people older than age 60 — according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases — is more than 23%, while Canadian prevalence is nearly 19%, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.