mHealth Monthly Mashup: Release 22.0 – Mobile Health for the Pharmacy

Michael Spitz highlights the role of mobile health in the pharmacy in his latest mHealth Monthly Mashup.

The pharmacy is a pivotal touch point along the patient journey, but one often overlooked by the excitement surrounding emerging mobile health opportunities in disease prevention, diagnostics, medical education, compliance, research, and health/wellness. As sweeping trends including healthcare reform, meaningful use, governmental regulation, and the exponentially growing role of managed care take precedent, the role of pharmacies and the pharmacist will only increase in magnitude and importance. So let’s take a few minutes to examine the mobile health potential for pharmacy, and share examples of how mhealth has already transformed this vital singularity between prescriber and prescribed.


“So let’s take a few minutes to examine the mobile health potential for pharmacy…”

From eCommerce to ePrescribing

No longer shackled to our desks thanks to computers in our pockets, just about everything once typed exclusively on desktops and laptops is now even more enthusiastically tapped on smartphones and tablets. The astronomical increase in user engagement has much to do with sheer convenience, but has also been engendered by compelling social media and point-of-sale opportunities: the online habit of product searching and cost comparing done at home or office has now been superseded by eCommerce transacted on the go, as shoppers carry with them the power of the Web to recommend products and services in real time.

Portability as the obvious but eminently beneficial characteristic of mobile technology is especially relevant in healthcare, where the information management demands placed on users in multiple locations is staggering and continuously increasing. From medical biometrics to administrative bureaucracy, mountains of data are created, processed, distributed, and stored at the point of care and everywhere. Along the way privacy is paramount, as information streams between patients, professionals, providers, and payers in ways often too intricate and complicated to fully map. The inevitable evolution of location-dependent electronic data processing to mobile tech has had its requisite fits and starts throughout the healthcare system, but opportunities far outweigh obstacles, driving adoption and integration.

Perhaps nowhere is that trend more readily apparent than in the pharmacy, where the benefit of readily accessing medical, logistical, financial, and personal information is immediate and urgent. From the moment a patient has the need for a drug, data such as in-network office locations, claims history, cost comparisons, drug formularies, and benefits summaries are key. After the drug is received opportunities also abound for branded drug info, administration alerts to improve compliance, and assistance with in-home care. While even before any decision is made disease education, symptom checkers, and wellness trackers all add daily value and empower consumers to focus on prevention.


“As eCommerce drove some of the first mobile apps, ePrescribing similarly staked the early claim in mobile health.”

As eCommerce drove some of the first mobile apps, ePrescribing similarly staked the early claim in mobile health. Three years ago, for example (before Android was taken seriously and Blackberry still reigned supreme), CVS Caremark launched an iPhone app for PBM (pharmacy benefits manager) members that enabled wireless prescription refills, order status, history, drug information, and cost checking, and in-network pharmacy finding. The branded app demonstrated the power of mobile health in retail by delivering a “mobile pharmacy” into the hands of every customer, thereby enhancing and reinforcing brand loyalty in a highly commoditized, competitive pharmacy market.


Introducing “The Virtual Pharmacy”

SecondLife might have been before its time, but virtual reality has taken the gaming world by storm, with extensibility into healthcare in the form of medical training and patient education. A similar approach has been recently taken with the Digital Pharmacy Experience, an iPad app that enables customers to explore and interact with contextual content throughout a 3D CVS/pharmacy. Much as customers would receive products and services at certain touch points within an actual physical location, iPad users access corresponding data within the graphical interface of the application: Pharmacy, Coupon Center, MinuteClinic, Photo Center, and shopping areas create a personalized, interactive experience.


Connecting the Pharmacy and Patient

Providing a way for pharmacies to communicate directly with patients is the next logical step toward full integration, a task recently made possible through a partnership between McKesson’s EnterpriseRxTM pharmacy management system and mscripts, a mobile pharmacy technology company. The innovative partnership enables interactive text messaging and data exchanges between pharmacies and patients using iPhone, Android, or Windows Phones; prescription pickup and dosage reminders, info on health clinics, drug recalls, and coupons are all proactively made available to patients on the go.


“…having an iPad during rounds gave pharmacists more efficient access to clinical references, lab values, medical records, and drug profiles, enabling swifter resolution of medication order entry challenges in real time.”


Improving Hospital Pharmacy Practice

Of the many challenges facing hospital pharmacists, medication verification is vexing, particularly during the rush after medical teams finish their rounds. The integration of mobile devices with pharmacists on hospital rounds would seem to optimize the process, an improvement recently demonstrated in an American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy article. The study showed how having an iPad during rounds gave pharmacists more efficient access to clinical references, lab values, medical records, and drug profiles, enabling swifter resolution of medication order entry challenges in real time.

Comparing Pharmacy App Functionality

The fine folks at iMedicalApps reviewed and cross-referenced seven patient-focused pharmacy applications, basing their assessments on several key functionalities, including: refilling prescriptions, scanning barcodes, transferring info between pharmacies, locating pharmacies and clinics, and providing drug data. Although somewhat dated and in cases surpassed by the “Digital Pharmacy” and their tablet kin, the analysis is interesting and reveals the increasing role of mobile health as a value-added differentiator and loyalty creator for some of the largest pharmacy chains and pharmacy departments of mega-retailers in the world.


Vision for a Pharmacy Mhealth Future

As we’ve explored in prior columns, mobile health is at an exciting point in its trajectory from trial period through commercialization and eventually integration. Given the history so far and current trending, the pharma mhealth experience of the future will progressively blend into a more comprehensive, synergistic, and deeply personalized user experience. After all, the customer or patient in a pharmacy, regardless of the reason at that moment in time, is traveling through a lifelong health and wellness journey. Rather than reacting to sickness, mobile health users are increasingly proactively pursuing health, realized through the biometrics of the quantified self and the insight that diet, exercise, mental health, and good living are all central to advancing personal and public health and well-being.


Summary and Key Takeaways

The pharmacy is a key touch point along the patient journey where billions in Rx and OTC drug sales are made. From disease education to symptom checking, prescribing to compliance, hospital to home care, information made available to customers and patients, physicians and pharmacists at the point of sale impacts healthcare at its core. The communications tech revolution ushered in through mobile health has already revolutionized the pharmacy experience, and is poised to enable a more seamless and integrated continuum of care worldwide. By increasingly eliminating information barriers and personalizing the experience, mobile health for pharmacy can make healthcare more practical and affordable, and advance public health through encouraging health, wellness, and prevention.


About the author:

Michael Spitz is SVP of Digital Health at Edelman. Spitz combines his passion for technology with more than 15 years of clinical content expertise to help engineer digital healthcare solutions. Follow @SpitzStrategy on Twitter for his daily – often hourly – updates on all things digital for the ultimate benefit of patients worldwide.

What do you think is the future of mobile health for the pharmacy?