Lessons Learned During Implementation of Telepharmacy

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many healthcare providers to abruptly pivot to telemedicine. As the world and the industry transition back to normal, practitioners are using telehealth more and more for long-term practice and patient management. A presentation at the annual conference of the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA) offered “Best Practices in Hematology/Oncology Telepharmacy” to share lessons learned by a group of pharmacists.

The panelists were Anupama Mathur, PharmD, BCOP, of Geisinger Medical Center in eastern Pennsylvania; Eve Segal, PharmD, BCOP, of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA); Diana Tamer, PharmD, BCOP, of Advent Health Shawnee Mission Cancer Center in Kansas. Serving as moderator was Tristan Maiers, PharmD, BCOP, of Geisinger.

The panelists emphasized that telepharmacy is here to stay, thanks to advances in technology, changes in the workforce, and patient preferences. They agreed that pharmacists are well positioned to serve as a bridge between patients’ visits with physicians, as extenders of the healthcare team. This aligns with American Society of Clinical Oncology standards and recommendations for situations when telehealth is a reasonable option:

  • addressing acute care issues to prevent visits to the emergency department
  • assessing whether a patient is adhering to oral medications
  • coordinating care after discharge
  • discussing test results, such as laboratory and imaging studies
  • educating patients about chemotherapy and other treatments
  • managing long-term treatment
  • overcoming barriers to care and problems with access
  • prescribing and managing medications

In implementing telepharmacy, the panelists said that one of the biggest challenge involved documentation. They suggested that clinics and institutions establish standardized, easy-to-follow ways to track pharmacists’ interventions, time spent during encounters, impact of encounters and interventions, and drug volumes.

They also emphasized the importance of establishing long-term goals of a telepharmacy program. A program can be 100% telehealth, a hybrid, or a partnership with a retail pharmacy. No matter the model, the panelists recommended that programs start slow, then escalate and grow as appropriate, only after carefully assessing workload, goals, and effectiveness.