The Role of Remote Clinical Pharmacists in Patient Education

remote clinical pharmacist for MTM

As healthcare’s top-tier medication experts, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to lead the charge on patient education. Consider how many times you or a loved one have filled a prescription without being clear on the purpose of taking the medication – or its potential side effects. You’re not alone. This problem afflicts patients of all ages all too often—especially those who are most vulnerable. The truth is patient education is a tool that has far greater power than it is currently being deployed today. With it, our healthcare system can empower patients to manage their health, proactively prevent health issues before they arise, and ultimately, keep more people out of costly care settings such as emergency rooms.  

It's difficult to overstate the issue caused by lack of health literacy in the US. In fact, it’s estimated that lack of health literacy drives between $106 and $238 billion in costs for our healthcare system. That’s because patients who haven’t been adequately educated utilize inpatient and emergent care at higher rates, which are far more costly than virtual or outpatient care delivery options. Equally as concerning is that elderly patients show lower degrees of health literacy, and with our nation’s Medicare-eligible population consistently rising, we must collectively work to protect the health of one of our most vulnerable populations. 

Now for some good news. It’s proven that clinical pharmacist-led patient education initiatives can improve medication adherence and health outcomes.  

Why patient education is vital for medication adherence 

As we’ve previously covered, patient education is perhaps the best way to positively influence medication adherence. It’s critical to equip patients with the information they need to take an active role in managing their medications and subsequently, their health. Imagine a home builder attempting to build a house without the proper tools—it’s akin to asking a patient to manage their own health without giving them the knowledge they need in order to properly do so.  

This is precisely why patient education is paramount in boosting medication adherence. It equips patients with the understanding of why their medications work so that they’re more likely to take them properly. Without sufficient patient education, it’s difficult for patients to care about proper adherence, since they don’t understand why or how their medications help keep them healthy in the first place. 

Back to our home building analogy—a properly educated patient is more likely to have better medication adherence in the same way that a construction team with blueprints, proper tools, and experienced builders is likely to build a house that will withstand the test of time. Whether a well-built house, or a patient with strong medication adherence, the result is the same—better, safer long-term outcomes. 

A lack of medication adherence is not only detrimental to patient health but to our healthcare system. When patients are nonadherent to their medications, their conditions often worsen in severity, leading to more expensive care. On a macro scale, it’s easy to see how this situation creates increased healthcare costs. Patients get sicker and require costly care to rectify issues that were preventable through proper medication use and adherence. What many of us don’t consider is that when patients disproportionately utilize high-cost care services, it makes healthcare more expensive for all. As chronically-ill patients drive costs for their health plans, premiums most ultimately rise for all members in an effort to cover the cost of care. Supporting patient education initiatives that aim to improve medication adherence is a key step in the mission to stop this trend of rising healthcare costs. 

How specialty medication increased the clinical pharmacist’s role 

It’s an unfortunate truth that Americans are suffering from chronic disease at higher rates than ever before. In fact, the CDC estimates that 60% of Americans have a chronic disease, with 40% having at least two. The most common chronic conditions include heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others. The treatment for many of these conditions? Specialty medications.  

Specialty medications are pharmaceutical therapies high in cost, complexity, and often, both. Because the chronic conditions they treat are usually lifelong and incurable, specialty medications are a massive cost driver, accounting for more than half of pharmacy spend in the US. Chronic conditions treated by these specialty medications can include diabetes, HIV, and autoimmune disorders, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

This is where clinical pharmacists come in. Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to lead the charge on patient education. Patient education comes naturally to pharmacists because of their broader knowledge as healthcare’s top medication experts and extensive training and experience in patient interactions. 

For healthcare organizations seeking to optimize their pharmacy spend and drive better health within in their populations, remote clinical pharmacists can be the solution to ensuring that patients get the most benefit from their specialty medications. As medication experts, clinical pharmacists can cut through the confusion and complexity of specialty medications to educate patients on how to properly use them for condition management. Until recently, these consultations were done at in-person pharmacy environments. However, with the advent of new technologies such as Aspen RxHealth, remote MTM pharmacists can conduct medication therapy management and specialty medication management consultations virtually, to increase care accessibility, build long-term relationships with patients, and maximize medication effectiveness.  

The clinical pharmacist’s role in medication adherence 

Remote clinical pharmacists can create massive impacts on medication adherence when properly integrated into clinical pharmacy programs. Because they work remotely, these pharmacists are unhindered by the constraints of busy pharmacies, long lines, or distracting administrative responsibilities. Their sole goal is to empathetically connect with patients and ensure better health outcomes through medication optimization.    

Working in this fashion, pharmacists can provide educational consultations to patients regardless of their geography, with the goal of equipping patients with the information they need to stay adherent to their medication regimens.

remote pharmacist for patient education

While many healthcare organizations operate clinical pharmacy teams in-house, they may find the costs to hire, train, and retain prohibitively high. Fortunately, through models such as Aspen RxHealth, they can now outsource their pharmacy teams. Aspen RxHealth’s technology platform intelligently matches pharmacists and patients based to create the best possible relationship each time. For example, a Korean-speaking remote clinical pharmacist with a specialty in diabetes treatment would be matched to a diabetic patient whose preferred language is Korean.  

What’s more, the flexibility of Aspen RxHealth’s platform allows patient education to be delivered in varying modalities. Dependent on the needs of the health plan and its members, Aspen RxHealth pharmacists can deliver targeted patient education consultations on particular topics or integrate patient education into their approach when providing comprehensive medication reviews (CMRs). In this way, some of the nation’s top health plans have already begun to reap the rewards of partnering with Aspen RxHealth to improve their medication therapy management (MTM), patient education, and medication adherence initiatives. 

What's stopping patients from being adherent?

A variety of factors can be attributed to low adherence. Lack of health literacy and general education are two key factors that can be positively impacted by a dedicated clinical pharmacist. By focusing their time and effort on providing valuable patient education, pharmacists can drive heightened levels of education, understanding, and ultimately, adherence.  

Aging patients

Perhaps the largest category of patients struggling with adherence are seniors. Due in part to their advanced age, these Medicare-eligible patients face multiple barriers to adherence that can be solved through targeted patient education outreach. 

Firstly, elderly patients may not know of the many resources available to them. While they may struggle to afford their medications or get transportation to doctor visits, their communities and health plans often offer programs designed specifically to alleviate these barriers to care. This is a perfect situation in which targeted patient education stands to make a world of difference.  

Secondly, seniors living alone or without a caregiver may have trouble understanding how and why to properly take their medication. This problem becomes exacerbated when the patient has multiple conditions for which they are undergoing treatment. The good news is, yet again, pharmacists have the skills needed to connect with patients, build relationships, and deliver important patient education to improve health and save lives. 

Chronically ill patients

Those patients suffering from chronic conditions stand to gain significant benefit from improved patient education. What lies at the core of helping them improve their health outcomes is deciphering the difficulties preventing them from properly managing their health and adhering to medication in the first place, and then removing those barriers.  

The primary cause for low health literacy in chronically ill patients is simpler than you may think. Often, these patients struggle due to the sheer complexity of their medication regimens. Imagine receiving complicated and expensive medications delivered to your home without a clinician to adequately explain how to properly administer them. Now imagine that same scenario for multiple conditions, since we know many chronically ill patients are afflicted with more than one chronic illness. Quickly, it becomes easy to realize the confusion these patients face. 

Mental health treatment

The movement toward mental health parity or treating mental health conditions with the same importance and recognition as physical conditions, is a great step forward in addressing the mental health crisis. Despite the gains our healthcare system has made, medication adherence still remains low among patients being treated for mental health disorders.  

There are a multitude of factors at play, but many mental health conditions can affect the emotions and overall mood of patients having a downstream impact in whether or not a patient remains adherent to their medications. The solution to avoiding a cycle of medication nonadherence among these patients is regular pharmacist consultations to check in, remind the importance of adherence, and education on the potential harmful outcomes created by neglecting proper treatment and medication. 

How the pharmacist patient relationship improves patient education

Unlike some healthcare providers who may force their beliefs or clinical opinions upon their patients, Aspen RxHealth pharmacists are extensively trained in motivational interviewing techniques to connect with patients and meet them where they are. This empathetic approach improves patients’ receptivity to participating in a medication consultation.  

Aspen RxHealth’s technology also allows pharmacists to curate their own panel of patients over time, allowing for strong, ongoing relationships. These relationships empower pharmacists to educate patients in the most effective way possible about their medications. Following a pleasant and productive consultation, every Aspen RxHealth patient is able to rate their pharmacist from 1-5 stars and indicate their preference to complete future consultations with that pharmacist. These two simple questions allow for pharmacists to be rewarded for their empathy and care by building a population of patients to whom they deliver care year after year. 

Transforming the patient mindset

At the core of patient education is the goal of creating a shift in the way that patients think. It’s this shift that facilitates true, long-term change. Under the model of simply taking orders from a physician, patients are relegated to a feeling subordinate and without agency in their own health.  

Pharmacists turn this dynamic on its head. They’re among the most accessible and trusted healthcare providers, meaning patients are more likely to be receptive to their suggestions. Additionally, pharmacists can deliver a higher degree of medication information than any other clinician while still meeting patients where they are and speaking in lay terms they can understand. 

Gone are the days of “I take this because my doctor told me to” or “I don’t know why I take it, but my doctor prescribed it”. In the new era of clinical pharmacy services, pharmacists have a front seat role to play in educating patients about not only the “how” of their medications but more importantly, the “why”. Through this approach, Aspen RxHealth pharmacists provide in-depth education in an easy-to-understand way, so patients are fully equipped to take the right actions for their health.  

Improve patient education with the nation's largest community of pharmacists

We built Aspen RxHealth beginning in 2018 with the goal in mind to tap into the underappreciated power of pharmacists. Since then, the Aspen RxHealth Pharmacist Community has grown to over 7,000 members strong, the largest group of its kind. The nation’s top health plans now count Aspen RxHealth among their dedicated clinical pharmacy partners, and it’s not hard to see why—pharmacists provide a type of care that no other clinician can, and Aspen RxHealth utilizes pharmacists like no other partner can. 

If your healthcare organization is struggling to identify a solution to educate your patients on their medications, consider Aspen RxHealth. Powered by innovative technology and a community numbering in the thousands, our patient education capabilities are limited only by your imagination. From vaccination reminders to information on seasonal illnesses, to education on proper adherence to HIV medication, there’s nothing we can’t educate your members on.  

With thousands of pharmacists at your fingertips, where would you point them?   

Learn more about Aspen RxHealth’s award-winning solutions here, or drop us a line to get the conversation started.