As non-dispensary services become a growing portion of pharmacies’ work, homecare could be the future for community pharmacies.
In a time defined by the impact of Covid-19 on whole countries, the entire landscape of medical care is shifting. A recent report by management consultancy McKinsey explored the possibility that more aspects of medical care could shift from traditional facilities to the home “without a reduction in quality of access.“
In the UK, homecare services are provided to more than 310,000 patients. This is done through a network of providers who dispense and deliver medicines and also offer nursing support and training to carers. McKinsey notes that home-based care could lead to improvements in the quality of care and patient experience. Home-based care could also mean lowered medical costs, as well as more protection for the more vulnerable from the risks inherent in a hospital space.
This is especially true as Covid tore through hospitals and clinics in the first two years of the pandemic. This resulted in many avoiding traditional care facilities entirely.
What is driving homecare?
The report pointed to a number of factors that would impact the rise of homecare.
Uptake in telehealth
Telehealth has boomed as hospitals and health systems look for safer alternatives. As the virus turned doctors’ offices into “no-go zones,” GPs have increasingly turned to telephone and video call-based consultations to connect with their patients. Virtual or virtually-enabled care could pose a US$250 billion opportunity as a whopping 40% of consumers say they will continue to use telehealth moving forward.
Growing need for long-term care
Across the UK and Ireland, ageing populations and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 is pushing demand for more long-term care options, beyond the abilities of care offered by family members and the traditional healthcare system. In the US, some reports suggest the number of Americans needing long-term care will double to 24 million by 2030, driven by the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions.
Technological developments and investment
Aside from the Covid-related telehealth boom, many previously-sceptical healthcare workers have begun to embrace its possibilities to support more homecare thanks to the leaps made in technology. Better remote patient-monitoring devices and more secure communications have led to significant growth in adoption.
The Mayo Clinic, for example, has seen significant (78.9%) engagement with its digitised ambulatory management of patients. The emergence of improved technology has also been driven by the increasingly lucrative nature of digital health solutions. In 2021 alone, as much as US$29.1 billion in venture capital flowed into healthtech.
However, it’s not just hospitals and GPs who are benefiting from telehealth but also pharmacies, which are transforming into key centres of community health.
Expanding care opportunities through pharmacies
Pharmacies have been bridging a crucial primary care gap in the healthcare system left by overburdened GPs by offering their medical expertise to their local community. In the current system, a lack of not just doctors but also nurses has pushed providers to explore how they can maximise their resources to meet all patients’ needs.
Over the years, pharmacists have taken over a larger portion of care responsibilities from GPs as health services in the UK and Ireland have sought to bring them further into the fold of their networks. As trained medical officers, pharmacists are well-versed in preventative care, patient counselling, and aspects of health and wellness.
Today, pharmacists in Ireland and across the United Kingdom are able to not only dispense medicine and offer advice on how to take them, they’re also able to:
- Administer Covid-19 and flu vaccines, and more seasonal medication;
- Conduct triage before an A&E trip;
- Help manage chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension;
- Offer advice on physical and sexual health; and
- Monitor crucial health vitals, like blood pressure.
In some cases, pharmacies also offer locally commissioned services in specific areas where people in the community can access needle and syringe exchange services, or help in quitting smoking.
Expanding the window for access
Should pharmacists enter the realm of homecare, there would be substantial benefits for society as a whole. It would introduce a level of flexibility for disabled and rural communities. Patients who live far from their nearest GP may find it easier to access help through their community pharmacists. There, pharmacists can help organise the delivery of medications or offer telehealth-enabled medical advice.
For pharmacies, the rising adoption of homecare would expand their ability to offer primary care services. Thus, opening up potential new revenue streams beyond the traditional dispensary business. Pharmacists’ medical skills and ability to offer services differentiate them from dispensary rivals. This could also be key to helping community pharmacies chart a more sustainable future.
This will be especially crucial considering the alarming rate of community pharmacy closures over the last year, an issue that has hit deprived and rural areas the hardest. By incorporating more homecare services, pharmacists could reach faraway patients more efficiently, and offer adapted versions of their usual services.
Managing long-term homecare needs
Pharmacists could positively impact the need for long-term care. This could be done by marshalling their medical training to offer homecare to patients suffering chronic illnesses. For instance, pharmacists could help HIV positive patients lead normal lives by providing the necessary medication and knowledge needed to manage their condition.
Pharmacies could also offer much-needed support in helping long-Covid patients. Studies found that across the world, the majority of Covid-19 patients struggled with at least one or more persistent symptoms for 2-6 months. However, there are many cases where symptoms remain a year after. Treatments for Covid-19 are still being explored and there are no quick solutions. By and large, long-Covid requires a long-term strategy of managing symptoms.
Pharmacists can take on a major role in supporting long-Covid patients. As medical officers, they can help navigate this poorly-understood condition. Pharmacists can act as a valuable source of information for understanding new medication. In addition, they can help form strategies for managing certain symptoms. They may even be able to remotely offer monitoring services and advice through telehealth capabilities.
Digitising homecare for all
Digitised systems could offer a great way for pharmacists to maximise their ability to offer homecare services to patients. Such systems can help pharmacists reach as many patients as possible. In addition to virtual consultations, here are three ways digital platforms can help pharmacists offer more primary care services:
1. Conduct regular check-ins on patients who need more contact
Pharmacists could remotely check-in with and monitor patients. Using a digitised platform makes this easy as it combines phone/video calls with data management.
2. Offer convenient ways to make appointment bookings
Digitised healthcare doesn’t have to be fully virtual. It could encompass blended physical and virtual combinations. Digitising bookings for vaccine or check-up appointments would make it easier for home-bound patients to schedule their time to come in-store. Alternatively, they can even use it to arrange for a medical officer to visit them at home.
3. Automate recalls and reminders
Through a digital platform, pharmacists could automate reminders to homecare patients as to when they need to refill a prescription. Equally, they can organise reminders to visit the pharmacy for a check-up. A similar service could be offered to non-homecare patients to alert them at particular junctures in time to buy certain medications, get vaccinated, and so on.
As services become increasingly important to pharmacies, the opportunity to explore new avenues of growth will reveal themselves. Homecare will become more important to sustaining whole community health, and pharmacies can play a major role to make it more accessible, convenient and affordable for patients everywhere.
To discuss how HasHealth digital platform could help your pharmacy expand homecare services, book a demo with our team today! To stay up to date with pharmaceutical industry insights and news, follow us on LinkedIn.
Digitise homecare for your patients
HasHealth offers pharmacies the tools they need to support their patients’ homecare needs. With the power of digital, they can book appointments online, order prescriptions and easily access medical advice. Book a call to learn how we can help you deliver a better customer experience.
Unsplash images provided by Blake Wisz, Marcelo Leal, and the CDC.