At the start of 2022, the HSE aimed to deliver 24 million hours of home help to support elderly and vulnerable people this year. However, in May it was reported that the HSE has missed its target by 7.5%, delivering roughly 35,000 fewer hours per week. By the end of the year, an estimated 1.8 million hours will go undelivered to the country’s elderly and vulnerable patients.
As hospitals struggle to cope with staff shortages and overcrowding, pharmacies are ideally placed to fill this gap and support elderly and vulnerable patients. This is especially true for pharmacies that have delivered care and support to the same patients for years. They have built a relationship with their patients and are familiar with their health conditions.
While this might seem like an increase in workload for pharmacies, there are many technology solutions available to support pharmacies. Technology can simplify how services are booked and medication is ordered. Pharmacists can also use digital tools to expand their clinical services. But are senior patients ready to navigate the online world and book the services they need?
Internet adoption amongst Irish senior citizens
The pandemic has supercharged internet adoption throughout Ireland. People had to quickly learn how to shop online, make video calls to stay connected, and even enable NFC payments on their smartphones to make cashless payments.
According to the Central Statistics Office, 9 out of 10 people used the internet in 2021 and 79% of Irish individuals aged 60 to 74 years used the internet in the last three months. However, only 46% of people over the age of 75 have used the internet in the last three months.
That said, if we look at global trends, there’s growth in internet adoption amongst Americans aged 65 and above. There, social media use increased fourfold – from 11% in 2010 to 45% in 2021. In the UK, the ONS found that internet usage went from 52% in 2011 in adults aged 65 to 74, to 83% in 2019. We believe that it’s only a matter of time for older adults in Ireland to catch up too.
This shift in consumer behaviour, especially in the elderly, is great news for community pharmacies. It allows pharmacies to leverage modern technology to deliver better care to the patients who need it most.
How can digital tools actually help senior patients?
As we mentioned earlier, there’s an opportunity for community pharmacies to help ease the burden of hospitals and deliver timely care to senior patients. The good news is that pharmacies can rely on digital tools like HasHealth to simplify and streamline how care is delivered.
1. Use video for consultations with senior patients who cannot leave their homes
Over the last couple of years, we saw an increased need for elderly and vulnerable patients to stay at home where possible. Staying home helped reduced the risk of contracting viruses, such as Covid-19, for anyone with underlying conditions or a compromised immune system.
However, there may be many reasons why senior patients cannot leave their homes. For instance, they may have limited mobility or limited access to transport. They may not be able to travel unaccompanied due to mental or physical health conditions. This makes it quite difficult for elderly or vulnerable patients to travel to a pharmacy for an in-person consultation.
For these patients, offering online video consultations can be extremely beneficial. Patients can speak with their pharmacist from the comfort of their own homes. Pharmacists can use video consultations to:
- Review medication changes.
- Monitor ongoing/ long-term health conditions.
- Give advice or answer any questions patients may have.
- Facilitate mental and physical health checks.
- Discuss the next steps for patients who require referral to a specialist.
2. Use video consultations to monitor long-term conditions
Instead of having patients with long-term conditions visit you in person to monitor their conditions, pharmacies can use video consultations to cut out the hassle of an in-person visit. This means that patients don’t have to think about arranging transport to and back from the pharmacy.
As we know, allocated parking spots for disabled people are limited and not every pharmacy will have them. Offering online pharmacy services, such as video consultations, reduces the need for patients to visit your clinic in person.
Setting up regular check-ins online also means that medical professionals can support medication compliance and ensure that patients are not suffering from any changes in their prescriptions.
3. Let patients book services online and cut down wait times
Online booking portals make it easier for patients to book, cancel, or change their appointments as needed. For patients with limited mobility who require in-person services, this gives them more time and flexibility to arrange transportation or other assistance with their caregivers.
Another perk of booking appointments online is that patients get to skip the line when they’re in-store. This can be particularly helpful for senior patients with underlying conditions who have to limit their exposure to others.
If your community pharmacy offers at-home visits to support homebound patients, an online booking platform can definitely help streamline that booking process. They can view the officer’s available times online and choose a time that works best for them.
4. Offer click and collect prescription services
Senior patients may have long-term conditions or chronic illnesses that require medication to manage. Others may also have mobility issues which make it difficult to wait long for their prescriptions to be prepared. Using a platform like HasHealth to offer online prescription services can help here.
Patients can order their prescription online and collect it once it is ready. This eliminates the need to wait in-store as medications are prepared. Pharmacists can also use the platform to send email reminders on the day of pick-up so patients don’t forget.
5. Send automated email or SMS reminders
Given that some senior patients might suffer from memory loss, remembering to refill their prescriptions or schedule vaccination appointments might be difficult. Digital platforms like HasHealth include communications features that are very useful in this case. They allow pharmacists can effortlessly send automated SMS or emails to their patients to remind them to:
- Book seasonal vaccination appointments.
- Refill prescriptions.
- Schedule check-ups.
- Collect prescriptions once they’re ready.
- Avail of new in-store/online pharmacy services/programmes.
6. Create resources that answer commonly asked questions
Pharmacies can also create a website to help answer any common questions patients might have about certain medications or conditions. For instance, you could write blog posts or short informational articles about healthy eating to manage diabetes or recommend exercises to manage high blood pressure.
Apart from offering useful advice to patients, informational blog content can also help boost SEO for the website over time, which can also lead to more website views in the long term.
Providing more holistic healthcare to senior patients
Consider one of your elderly patients. They may struggle with walking and standing for extended periods of time. In addition, they may rely on public transport or friends/family to drive her to the pharmacy to collect medication. Upon arriving in-store, they may need to wait a while before a pharmacist is available to speak to them about refilling their medication. Then, they may need to wait again once their prescription is prepared.
If pharmacies are serious about delivering patient-centred care to senior patients, they’ll need to consider the many small hurdles throughout the patient journey, and find ways to eliminate as many hurdles as possible.
Technology platforms like HasHealth provide a great solution to eliminate hurdles or reduce their impact on the patient journey. As more elderly patients get comfortable relying on the internet to run errands and schedule appointments, pharmacies should feel confident extending their online pharmacy services to better support the elderly too.
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