Oct 31 2018

What’s New in Patient and Pharmacy Technology?

Apple CEO Tim Cook wowed the world when he revealed his company’s Series4 Apple watch, which includes features to detect when a wearer has fallen, an abnormal heart pattern, and can summon emergency help when needed.  Outcome-changing,” and Life-saver,” were among the terms used to describe the effect Apple’s technology breakthrough could have on patient care.

But Apple is hardly alone in blazing new trails.  Patient-centered technology solutions seem to emerge on a regular basis, with far-reaching implications for the dissemination of health care services.

Diabetes patients, for example, can take advantage of sensor-based devices that can replace traditional blood glucose monitoring.  This could mean no more urine or blood tests, or delays in obtaining test results.  Instead, an implanted sensor can continually monitor glucose levels and send reports to an app on a patient’s cell phone.  The sensor will also trigger a warning if a glucose level is found to be too high or too low.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first implantable glucose measuring device, manufactured by Senseonics.  Several similar products are at various stages of development.

Bluetooth-enabled smart inhalers are helping improve adherence for asthma sufferers.  According to research reported in the Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery, roughly 94 percent of asthma patients do not use their inhalers correctly, despite the effectiveness of the medication if taken as prescribed.  Now though, there is an alternative.  A new FDA-approved “smart” inhaler records the date, time, place and whether the dose was correctly administered.  A sensor is wired into the inhaler with a Bluetooth transmitter.  According to PBS, the sensor activates when the inhaler is pressed, setting into motion a process that records the exact time and location of a patient’s asthma attack on a smartphone app.

Meanwhile, advances in health screening technology allow pharmacies to offer patients in-store services that previously had to be obtained at a physician’s office or clinic.  Pharmacies can now offer a range of screenings including cardiovascular risk assessments, blood pressure checks for hypertension, glucose testing for diabetes, and bone density screening for osteoporosis. 

This increased availability of in-store testing complements advances to pharmacy technology solutions.  Now it is possible for a pharmacy to add those screening results to a patient’s existing pharmacy record, which allows better insight into a patient’s overall health history. 

Technology continues to facilitate the in-store pharmacy experience in other ways.   Robotic dispensing technology has become increasingly efficient and reliable, such that a growing number of pharmacies have been able to dramatically improve dispensing times.  This means patients spend less time waiting, and pharmacists have more time to spend interacting with patients.

Pharmacy wait time is also managed via automatic text or email notifications.  Patients are sent a message when a prescription has been filled, or when a refill or renewal is required.  Automatic notifications not only add convenience, but help address the serious problem of medical non-adherence, since a patient who might otherwise let an expiring prescription lag will be more likely to allow the pharmacy to obtain a renewal. 

Looking ahead, technology-based pharmacy e-care plans will have a central role in patient and pharmacy management.  Pharmacy e-care plans are a relatively new tool available to capture, manage – and share – critical patient medical information across patient care teams.  The e-care plan replaces existing processes in which patient records are often maintained in manual files, or spread across multiple systems.  Through the e-care plans, pharmacists can share important information with doctors, clinicians and other members of a patient’s health care team, thereby enabling better care while reducing redundant data entry, and eliminating the risk of prescription conflicts.

As pharmacists – and patients – consider the breathtaking scope of current technology options, it’s important to keep in mind that many of today’s innovations will soon be replaced by even better solutions.  Technology has made possible innovations that were previously unthinkable.  Savvy pharmacy managers will keep pace, and take advantage of solutions to help improve efficiency, and better serve patients.