With each passing year, it becomes increasingly evident that all industries are now in the business of making convenience a key feature of whatever service or product they provide. This shift is driven by customer choice and expectation, which has changed thanks to widespread internet access and improvements in the logistics sector that have made services like same-day delivery possible.
The healthcare industry is no stranger to this transformation. On one hand, technology offers unparalleled access to vast customer pools and the means to attract them. On the other, it sharpens competition and completely changes the rules of the game. Adapt, and quite literally, the world could be yours, but failure to do so will spell disaster for your business.
Pharmacists must learn to navigate through the opportunities technological advancements create and make the necessary adjustments to stay profitable. The technological trends below have proven to be worth paying attention to as they are poised to affect significant change in the industry.
Simply put, telehealth is the ability of healthcare providers to give access to medical information and services remotely through the use of digital technologies. The main purposes of telehealth, include:
- Making it more convenient for patients to get professional medical help
- Increasing access to doctors and specialists for people with limited movement possibilities or in rural areas by removing the need for patients to travel to physicians
- Helping medical staff monitor patients’ health regularly and efficiently
- Improving communication between different medical staff that care for the same patient
- Cutting healthcare costs
The ability to remotely ask for (and provide) professional help faster and at lower costs is appealing to both patients and providers. The global telehealth market, of which the U.S. makes up almost half, is expected to rise from $18 billion in 2015 to over $ 41.2 billion by 2021, according to Statista. Mordor Intelligence estimates that the U.S. market alone will reach more than $60 billion by 2024. On the patient side, consumer satisfaction surveys have been highly encouraging, with one finding that 62% of surveyed reported no difference between telehealth service and face-to-face meetings with their physicians.
This year, telehealth has remained top of mind thanks, in part, to CMS’ recent policy changes that considerably expand telehealth benefits for Medicare Advantage plans. Pharmacists are already taking advantage of opportunities for live video counseling and remote prescription verification, which can help improve patient adherence, but other potential benefits include:
- Attracting through specialization. This is a top strategy for huge PBMs willing to bet on patients’ need for specialized pharmacists. Some niches, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, have broad target markets and the potential for substantial profit margins.
- Providing access to quality information. Creating a portal with easy access to free and valuable information can attract patients and reinforce expertise.
- Creating an integrated experience for patients. Digital platforms make it easier to communicate with physicians and give patients peace of mind through personalized service.
- Targeting niche markets. One of the benefits of telehealth is that it makes patients in remote areas or in need of specialized medications more accessible to pharmacists and other healthcare providers.
Voice search has grown significantly in the past few years, driven by the availability of AI assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. According to Comscore, voice search will account for 50% of all searches by 2020. Furthermore, OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts that smart speakers will be in 55% of American households by 2022, up from 13% in 2017. The same company estimates voice shopping to jump from a modest $2 billion in 2017 to a whopping $40 billion by 2022 as well.
Given this growth, it comes as no surprise that voice search is starting to make its mark on the healthcare space. A recent study found that consumers are increasingly using the major voice-activated home speakers (Apple HomePod, Google Home, and Amazon Echo) for healthcare-related purposes. Additionally, the study found that Google Assistant outpaced its competitors in understanding brand name medications (92%) and generics (84%). By comparison, Siri only understood 58% of brand names and 51% of generics, while Alexa had 55% and 46% comprehension, respectively.
Earlier this year, Amazon announced it had launched an invite-only program for Alexa, its voice-activated virtual assistant that enabled companies to operate in its HIPAA-eligible environment. This move allows the company to collaborate with developers that follow HIPAA rules and protocols, effectively opening the door for voice search to play a bigger role in the healthcare space.
Out of the six freshly released healthcare features, pharmacists will be interested in Express Scripts’ Alexa skill. It allows users to use voice commands to check the status of their home delivery orders receive notifications when orders are shipped. Other features include a children’s post-surgery enhanced recovery program by Boston’s Children Hospital, a search and schedule feature for doctor’s appointments by Providence St. Joseph Health, and one that allows users to stay up-to-date on their blood sugar trends by Livorno.
Companies like GoodRx, Drug Facts, and WebMD also offer skills for doctors, patients, and to an extent, pharmacists, so it should be expected that investment in this area will continue. As it does, pharmacies need to watch closely and be prepared for the opportunities that arise.
eCare has become quite the buzzword in pharmacy as pharmacists look to electronic care plans to help demonstrate the important role they play in patient care. Specifically, these eCare plans serve as a single point of information storage when it comes to a patient’s medical documents so they can easily be shared with other healthcare providers.
In 2017, the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN) launched a pilot Pharmacist eCare Plan (PeCP), which has helped pushed more recent adoption of eCare platforms by pharmacists. The plan enables pharmacy technology providers to share a common method of exchanging information related to patient care, including active patient goals and medication lists, billing, drug therapy issues, health concerns, lab results, payer information, and vitals. This allows for better collaboration between pharmacists and doctors, ultimately improving outcomes for a patient’s overall health in the future.
The PeCP offers a number of other benefits in addition to showcasing the importance of pharmacists in providing comprehensive patient care.
- The streamlined communication between providers helps improve workflows, leading to a reduction in administrative work and freeing up time to consult with patients.
- There is the potential for payment reform since it allows for better communication among all players, including administrators and insurers.
- The focus on preventative care services for things like diabetes, weight loss, and smoking cessation can help lower insurance costs for patients.
As the industry continues to emphasize preventive services and patient-centered care, eCare plans are perfectly positioned to help pharmacists stay on top of these expectations.
In the new reality, patients are more empowered than ever with unprecedented options. How pharmacists choose to respond will determine how technology — and the opportunities it creates — will drive patient loyalty. Change might be inevitable, but what that means for your business is entirely up to you.