Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdose involving opioids, according to the U.S. government. Recently, President Trump declared opioid abuse a national public emergency.
In an effort to address this issue, the healthcare supply chain is stepping up the roles of its stakeholders in combating the epidemic.As individuals, companies, and channels, the manufacturer, wholesaler, payer, physician team, and pharmacy are each aggressively delivering solutions that help patients manage their pain medication needs while also seeking to monitor proper use of opioids and prevent misuse.
As the gatekeeper and “point of care” for the monitoring and counseling patients on proper use of prescription medications, pharmacy has identified several opportunities to integrate solutions into its practice, leveraging cost-effective, enabling technology that would complement the current workflow.
Tech tools to help manage opioid misuse
Pharmacists in different settings are already using a variety of enabling technology tools to help fight the opioid epidemic. Here are some of the tech tools and process reviews that are proving key to opioid management efforts.
Review current physical footprint
Simple, but essential: Digital updated security systems and highly visible cameras can enable a pharmacy to monitor both patient and employee activities.
“Watchful eye” monitoring
Integration of individual state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and other databases into the workflow of pharmacy management systems helps pharmacists collaborate closely with local physicians, other pharmacies, and local law enforcement to identify, avoid, address, and limit potential abuse or misuse situations.
Enhanced patient information
Traditional education on proper use and compliance has been primarily handled “over the counter” with patients and /or their agents with mixed results. A growing trend for pharmacies is increasing their reach and leveraging patient use of smart phones and home computers by introducing personalized QR or bar codes on prescription labels or receipts that can be linked to medication videos. These videos are available to patients at home and pre-selected in their respective language and at a 5th-grade level of understanding.
Telehealth and mobile expansion
Growing use and adoption of telehealth programs, which connect the patient to the pharmacist and other healthcare professionals via phone, video, email, or chat, has great potential to reach more patients and assist them with pain management and proper use of opioids. It may also be an effective means to address potential misuse or overdose situations.
Additionally, by leveraging the ever-expanding use of mobile platforms and apps, pharmacy can offer “virtual coaching” to assist patients on managing their condition and proper use of their opioid medications.
Pharmacy is now routinely offering and delivering MTM services to patients. Given the accessibility and trust attributes of pharmacy, there is a growing demand from public policymakers and payers for pharmacy to play an even greater role in managing the care of patients. Besides just technology that can provide cost-effective solutions to improve workflow, technology resources are making it easier and more timely for pharmacy to consult with patients regarding their overall health; capturing and providing insight based on the aggregation of patient demographic, medical, lab, and pharmacy data. Use of predictive analytics and learnings can help pharmacists collaborate with physicians and payers to target the right patients to determine potential abuse issues, as well as if someone may be relapsing.
Compliance packaging and labeling
Configured to help patients with proper use and keeping medications secure at home (as well as how to properly dispose of unused medications), compliance packaging is the standard of practice in Europe for all medications. It may now be time for the U.S. marketplace and regulators to embrace it as well.
Proper disposal of unused medications can prevent potential abuse. Pharmacies are currently adopting new technology such as Dispose RX (biodegradable gel) or in-store disposal units that offer consumers an easy opportunity to properly dispose of unwanted or expired prescription drugs.
While there is no “magic bullet” to stop the growing number of overdose opioid deaths, the pharmacy industry can continue to strengthen its commitment, role, and responsibility as the medication “gatekeeper.” Utilizing enabling technology solutions will provide better tools and can make a difference in slowing down this epidemic.
David J. Fong, PharmD, is president of Dave Fong Rx Consulting, Inc. A former senior retail pharmacy executive for Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, he is recognized as one of the U.S. and Canada’s business and professional healthcare leaders, leveraging his knowledge and experience working with pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, retailers, payers, and healthcare technology companies to bring value to the industry and the consumer.