Controlling hospital budgets is challenging. Most hospitals have had efficiency drives in place for years, meaning that the easy cuts have already been made. However, drug and labor costs continue to rise and reimbursements simply can’t keep up. This leaves hospital administrators wondering where they can go next without negatively impacting patient care. One answer for many hospitals is their pharmacy.
Organizations are always looking for ways to reduce costs without negatively impacting operations and patient safety. Pharmacy efficiencies can be significant when using the right technology.
The Problem: Staff is Expensive and Difficult to Replace
Clinical pharmacists are critical to the functioning of every hospital. However, pharmacy cost savings can seem impossible when these highly trained clinicians are both well-paid and difficult to replace, such as in rural areas.
Overtime is expensive
Short gaps in coverage such as unscheduled callouts, terminations, and vacations are often filled through overtime.
Overtime as a solution to staffing issues can be expensive. What’s more, excessive overtime or pushing workloads of absent pharmacists onto other staff can result in pharmacist burnout, turnover, and even increased risk for preventable adverse drug events (PADEs).
Per diem is also expensive and often involves quality compromises
Longer-term staffing gaps, such as those caused by termination or maternity/paternity/personal leave, are quite often addressed with per diem/locum tenens pharmacists.
Per diem/locum tenens pharmacists are typically not quite as expensive as paying current staff overtime, but they are still much more expensive than regular staff. Per diem pharmacists also tend to bring additional negatives such as:
- Low job satisfaction: Per diem pharmacists often feel disconnected from their jobs. Constantly moving or switching between facilities makes it difficult to establish relationships with nursing staff or other pharmacy team members, potentially impacting patient care.
- Everything takes longer: Every hospital and pharmacy has unique policies and procedures, so even the most skilled pharmacists take longer to complete routine tasks and their error rate is typically higher.
Temporary staff is paid on an hourly basis
Contract pharmacists are typically paid by the hour which means the cost to the hospital for reviewing half a dozen medication orders on a third shift can be comparable to reviewing hundreds during the first shift. This can make 24/7 pharmacy coverage expensive, especially when calculated on a per-order basis or when adding coverage to a typically slow third or weekend shift.
So what can organizations do?
The Solution: Use Telepharmacy to Increase Flexibility and Decrease Costs
Advances in connected technologies have revolutionized telepharmacy. New software provides the patient-centric virtual environments that remote pharmacists need to be critical assets to any clinical pharmacy while providing the pharmacy cost savings hospitals are looking for.
Supplement your onsite staff with telepharmacists
Telepharmacists today can complete more than simple remote order entry tasks. They can now perform all the same tasks as in-house pharmacists such as:
- Identifying interventions
- Providing clinical consultations
- Monitoring formulary compliance
- Enforcing drug use policies
- Counseling patients on medication usage
- Performing medication reconciliation and discharge management
- Providing specialized clinical services
Telepharmacists are trained on each hospital’s unique formulary, policies, and procedures. They become an extension of the in-house pharmacy team providing on-demand support as needed, whether there is a surge in medication orders or the pharmacy needs coverage for a last-minute callout.
Pay by the order, not the hour
Instead of having fixed pharmacy costs regardless of the ebb and flow of the workday, hospitals can pay per medication order. This provides significant pharmacy cost savings when compared to hiring additional staff, paying overtime, or hiring per diem staff.
Streamlined pharmacy operations improve hospital operations
What’s more, telepharmacy streamlines operations and increases efficiency throughout the entire hospital providing:
- Reduced and more consistent medication order review times
- Improved work and job satisfaction for all employees
- More pharmacist time available for clinical initiatives
Think telepharmacy sounds too good to be true?
See how these hospitals used telepharmacy to increase coverage at a significant savings, with additional unexpected benefits.
While implementing a new EHR, Director of Pharmacy Scott Burns discovered there were significant gaps in pharmacy coverage. After calculating that using remote pharmacists was 45% cheaper than hiring someone full-time, Burns turned to telepharmacy to cover the 9 pm to 7 am shifts that were left unattended. Seeing the operational efficiencies delivered by the PipelineRx team, Burns quickly adopted the same web-based software for the inhouse pharmacists. This important step further aligned the teams and had the effect of streamlining processes for nurses which has resulted in greater collaboration and better patient care.
Rome Memorial Hospital extended pharmacy coverage to 24/7 at a rate 45% cheaper than hiring additional staff.
This 13-bed critical access hospital in Western Colorado sees seven patients per day, on average, but still wanted to ensure 24/7 prospective pharmacy review. With few to no medication orders each night, Director of Pharmacy Nancy McClew cost-effectively covered the entire third shift by paying per order for remote pharmacy services from PipelineRx, saving the hospital $300,000 in staffing compared with hiring additional staff. Additionally, the hospital documented more than 350 telepharmacist interventions in a single quarter, totaling an estimated $50,000 in savings.
Grand River Hospital saved $350,000 in just one year after implementing telepharmacy.
Interested learning more about telepharmacy services and technology can help your organization meet its financial and clinical goals? Contact us.