5 Questions Hospital Leaders Should Ask When Choosing Telepharmacy

By Kevin Jones, RPh, Vice President of Pharmacy Services • August 1, 2017

Medical Team Meeting

Choosing a telepharmacy vendor?  We’re all well aware of how overstretched hospitals are these days. The increasing demands of clinical programs and decentralized models are part of why we’re seeing more hospitals picking up on the option to use telepharmacy, and not just for nighttime coverage. Many are scaling capacity and supplementing their day coverage as well, recognizing the cost-effectiveness of this solution.

Despite the benefits, there are some who still have reservations about quality. Things like adherence to policy, response time, clinical confidence, metrics, and communication come up regularly. And rightly so. If I were still heading pharmacy at an academic medical center, I would certainly be concerned with many of these things myself.

To uncover the capabilities of vendors, here is a list of the top five questions I recommend every hospital leader ask when exploring telepharmacy:

Question 1: What is your turnaround time?

This is a critical question to ask. Ensuring clinical confidence begins with promptly responding to the needs of providers and their patients. At PipelineRx, we’re averaging 6 minutes turnaround time on STAT orders and less than 10 minutes on routine orders, all while driving medication order variances down to levels approaching the six sigma quality measure. This is critical to maintaining relations with the nursing and clinical staff, reducing medication cabinet overrides, and providing better care for patients.

Question 2: How often do your pharmacists provide clinical interventions?

Hand-in-hand with turnaround time is understanding the clinical value that the telepharmacists can deliver. As they review medication orders, our pharmacists perform an average of 470 interventions a day, which works out to about 6% of all orders processed. More importantly, these recommended interventions result in a provider making a change to the medication order in 90% of the cases. These industry-defining metrics are a direct result of hiring experienced staff, investing significantly in training, applying the principles of continuous quality improvement (CQI), and providing our pharmacists with a smart rules-based software system for effective decision support.

Question 3: What is the average career length of your pharmacists?

Putting the welfare of your pharmacy and patients into the hands of a call center with less experienced pharmacists is not a choice any hospital wants to make. That is why we provide clients with a dedicated team of seasoned clinical pharmacists that understand the nuances of each hospital’s operations – something that only comes with experience and the right tools. We employ a team of pharmacists that average 8-10 years of clinical pharmacy practice, with more than a third holding advanced PGY1 or PGY2 residency certificates.

Question 4: How do you ensure rigorous adherence to policy?

There is no more important question than this one when we meet with customers. We mirror and extend the exact cognitive clinical roles and responsibilities of the client’s onsite pharmacists, all day every day. While many organizations still use reference binders, our proprietary software streamlines this process through a searchable online reference library and alerts the team to any changes in policy for quicker and more consistent adoption.

Question 5: What do you do to ensure your pharmacists build trust with nursing and clinical staff?

This is an often-overlooked question but one that is vitally important upon implementation. When nurses interact with your remote team, you want them to have a relationship and sense of trust. Be sure that your vendor offers a team-based approach with dedicated pharmacists that become an extension of your own staff: the third shift should work like the first, and names and phone numbers of team members should be provided so that nurses always have a direct line for their clinical questions.  

I recommend you use these questions as a starting point when evaluating vendors, then build on them further before you make this critical decision.  All vendors are not alike and quality will have a much more significant impact on your organization than price alone, so be sure to do your research and conduct a thorough comparison.    

Kevin Jones, RPh, MBA, is VP of Pharmacy Services at PipelineRx. He has over 25 years of experience as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in the hospital, institutional and home care settings, including serving as Director of Pharmacy at Denver Health Medical Center.