Telemedicine is an option that has picked up momentum as the coronavirus pandemic spread and people began looking for safer options than an in-person visit at a healthcare facility. But it is often underutilized – both by healthcare professionals and individuals, often because of state or federal regulations.
The same is true of the delivery of medications.
About half the states in America, mostly west of the Mississippi River, allow some form of telepharmacy. What is telepharmacy? As the name implies, it is the delivery of pharmaceutical care via technology to patients at a distance, often in areas where access to a pharmacist is limited or not available.
The regulations around telepharmacy vary greatly by state. For example, a common anti-competitive regulation is to prohibit telepharmacies from operating near traditional pharmacies.
This may be another store, which serves as an expansion of a current retail pharmacy or a kiosk.
The store-based model is staffed by one or more certified pharmacy technicians, supervised by a pharmacist, who reviews prescriptions and conducts live-video consulting with patients before drugs are dispensed.
Beyond stores, we also have kiosks that allow patients to get their prescription from what is essentially a vending machine. When we speak about social distancing, this is the tool that can meet that need, along with newfound convenience.
No, you can’t just go and get whatever you’d like without a prescription. The kiosks, which have a pharmacist on call for your help, have a digital address to which prescribers can e-prescribe or users can scan their phone with their prescription. Depending on the provider, you can upload your prescription to an app and know when it will be ready. Customers then enter their identification and insurance information and can pay with cards or cash. In some cases, the kiosks may be outside a hospital or on a college campus. Or they may be outside a retailer.
We’ve seen this technology before. Similar to ATM machines or RedBox, the kiosks provide a new level of convenience – as well as privacy – to customers. And they usually cost less without the staffing and other overhead expenses usually incurred by traditional brick and mortar pharmacies.
This is technology that is available today that is benefiting residents of other states. It can lead to cost savings for consumers and allow us to keep our distance in a world of social distancing.
First, Mississippi would need to legalize the technology.