It’s estimated that three out of four Americans don’t always take their medication properly, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The cost, on so many levels, is staggering. “Poor medication adherence takes the lives of 125,000 Americans annually, and costs the healthcare system nearly $300 billion a year in additional doctor visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations,” AHA says.
While it won’t solve the problem alone, new technologies are helping leading-edge pharmacies to turn the tide. Just ask Eric Russo, vice president at Florida-based Hobbs Pharmacy, an independent pharmacy in Merritt Island, Fla. Using video technology and scannable QR codes while eschewing long, complex paper instructions, Russo has seen the pharmacy raise its game on a number of operational fronts.
By scanning the QR code on the prescription packaging, or providing customers with a dedicated website, Russo’s patients can quickly and conveniently access thousands of medication-specific usage videos and potential side-effect information in a MedsOnCue library. It’s as easy as clicking on a link in an email or text message, says David Medvedeff, CEO of VUCA Health, a company that produces the technologies used by Russo and other clients.
“We’re able to provide a better patient experience by giving them access to online medical guides, and demonstrations of what a drug or medical device looks like, [along with] easy to follow instructions for how to accurately use it,” Russo says.
For example, he’s able to use a video to provide step-by-step instructions on how to properly administer a nasal spray while a patient is at his pharmacy. The patient can also view the video at home. In addition, Russo has found video instructions to be effective helping patients adhere to medication regimes for several conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and high cholesterol treatment throughout the course of their treatment.
“Many patients will say they have no questions” after they receive their medication, Russo explains. “They are harried, they’re tired,” and sometimes the patient just wants to take the bag and go home. Unfortunately, they’ll often think of a question after they’ve left the pharmacy. What once took back and forth phone calls can now often be solved with a link to a FAQ or other visual resource, Russo says.
It’s helpful to pharmacists, too. “There are so many different types of medications, it can be hard to keep up,” he says. But using video technology he’s able to easily access images of drugs and devices to help ensure he’s filing the prescription properly.
It also saves paper. Lots of it, Russo says. He estimates his pharmacy saves nearly $2,000 annually in reduced paper usage.
“The average pharmacy will print 35 miles of paper a year. It’s expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s ineffective,” says Medvedeff.
Medvedeff, who came out of the drug information publishing industry, was part of a team that created and sold a drug information clinical drug reference that was licensed by pharmacies. He was also CEO of a company that measured the patient experience for health systems across the United States. Working with large organizations including the Mayo Clinic and Kaiser, he had access to the perceptions of millions of patients. “The lowest part of their experience was communication about medications,” he says. “The doctors communicated well, the nurses communicated well” but patients felt pharmacists weren’t doing a good job making sure the patient understood what the prescribed drug was for, and possible side-effects.
Properly employed, technology can also help a relatively small neighborhood pharmacy remind the community it’s no Luddite operation. As an example, VUCA Health worked with a community pharmacy to produce a flu shot video. “They went to the school board and they marketed their ability to offer this service using the video to explain why the teachers needed the shots and what they should expect from it.” In many cases, he says, smaller pharmacies are able to provide the “optics that show they are more state of the art than the large chains.”
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Russo says. Given all that crammed small type on many prescription instruction sheets, it’s perhaps no surprise patients are responding so well to more user-friendly visual options, he adds.
The trees like it, too.