Pharmacy Technicians Play an Essential Role in Telepharmacy

Internet and telepharmacy

A recent Great Falls Tribune article by Peter Johnson (“Providing rural health services”) describes a telepharmacy that was set up in Big Sandy, Montana. Until 2010, the small town of went without a pharmacy after the local drug store closed in 1992. During those 18 years, staff at Big Sandy’s nursing home, rural health clinic and hospital would call in prescriptions to Fort Benton, 40 miles away, and have them delivered by couriers. Now, with a telepharmacy in town, prescriptions are filled much more quickly and can be picked up locally.

The telepharmacy was opened by pharmacist Chris Halko who runs Benton Pharmacy in Fort Benton. A pharmacy technician and clerk run the Big Sandy site. “One of the hardest parts is finding the right pharmacist technician who has strong technical and people skills, Halko said,” reported Johnson. “Paula Amsbaugh, who has been the Big Sandy pharmacist tech from the start, is ideal, he said.”

As pharmacy technician, Amsbaugh enters patient info and prepares prescriptions, and then via audio and visual communication computer systems, pharmacist Halko verifies that the prescription is filled accurately. He can also provide patient counseling over the computer program.

What is Telepharmacy?

The North Dakota Telepharmacy Project defines telepharmacy as:

“Through the use of state-of-the-art telecommunications technology, pharmacists are able to provide pharmaceutical care to patients at a distance. Telepharmacy expands access to quality health care to communities nationwide, primarily in rural, medically-underserved areas.”

The exact definition of telepharmacy varies by jurisdiction and state.

In a nutshell, it allows pharmacists that cannot be physically present (be it a rural setting that cannot afford a full time pharmacist, a healthcare facility or hospital that does not offer 24 hour pharmacy services, etc.) to supervise pharmacy technician practices and to ensure patients are receiving their correct prescriptions and the counseling they need. The term “remote pharmacy” is sometimes used interchangeably with telepharmacy.

Telepharmacy computer systems employed by pharmacy professionals come from a variety of companies, including ScriptPro, e-PharmPro, AmeriSourceBergen and Envision Telepharmacy.

Where is Telepharmacy Implemented?

  •  “North Dakota was the first state to pass administrative rules allowing retail pharmacies to operate in certain remote areas without requiring a pharmacist to be present,” states the North Dakota Telepharmacy Project. This allowed telepharmacy programs to be launched in the state beginning in 2001. Now approximately 81 pharmacies are involved in the North Dakota Telepharmacy Project.
  • Some of the other states that have adopted or approved telepharmacy programs include Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, Texas, Hawaii, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Alaska, Illinois, Vermont, Wyoming and Nebraska…
  • To find out whether telepharmacy is allowed or implemented in your state, you can research or contact your State Board of Pharmacy.
  • Various branches of the military, including Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Navy, have either implemented pilot or long term telepharmacy programs.

Pharmacy Technician Role

“…both telepharmacy and telemedicine programs will have a positive impact on pharmacy technicians…” stated Jennifer O’ Reilly for the National Pharmacy Technician Association in a February 21, 2014 article.  “The trend may create jobs and a new field for technicians to work in, which makes new technology in the healthcare profession a win-win situation.”

While telepharmacy technician job descriptions will vary by state legislation, skilled and highly trained pharmacy technicians perform their duties (such as entering patient and health insurance into a database, typing up prescriptions, stocking Automated Dispensing Cabinets or even preparing the actual prescriptions) under the supervision of a pharmacist in real time. Except this supervision allows the pharmacist to “teleport” there via audio and visual telecommunications.