The Future Role of Pharmacists

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Digital Health Corner Editor: Parisa Vatanka, PharmD, CTTS

Julie Fishman HeadshotIn a world of constant technological advances, the field of digital health is growing rapidly, and it is impacting both patients and pharmacists. I recall back in pharmacy school when we held ‘brown bag’ days for patients who brought in all their prescription medications as well as over-the-counter products. As pharmacy interns, we would counsel patients and help them understand how to take their medication properly, eliminate duplication, and check for interactions. Addressing polypharmacy, medication reconciliation, and patient education continues to be an important role for pharmacists. Now with digital health encompassing numerous categories such as telehealth, apps, wearables, sensors and digital therapeutics, more patients across all age groups and disease states are becoming active users of these technologies. In fact, in the 2019 PwC HRI survey, more than 50% of respondents said they “would be somewhat or very likely to try an FDA-approved app or online tool for treatment of a medical condition.” A future where a patient comes to a pharmacy with their medications as well as their prescribed digital therapeutics seeking advice and guidance might not be that far-fetched.

The role of the pharmacist must start to evolve, integrating digital health technologies to augment patient care. For example, patients may seek pharmacists’ advice to deal with their increasingly complex medication regimens. Those with chronic complex conditions might be on multiple medications taken in an on/off cycle and might need to learn how to self-inject medications. Now there are solutions available to support patient self-management that pharmacists may recommend ranging from simple reminder ‘alarm clocks’ to sophisticated automated medication dispensers.

Certain considerations guide selecting the appropriate tools and products. For patients, they often include ease of use, ability to customize, ratings, reviews and cost, among others. Some digital health technologies which are typically available in the form of an app or an interface act as ‘digital companions’. They have AI and machine learning algorithms that evaluate patient behavior as they are engaging with the tool allowing delivery of personalized support and interventions. These tools often become a source of medical information as well as enable connectivity with pharmacists, caregivers and patient communities. They serve as on-demand support available around the clock. Some of these technologies are specific for a drug or condition and some provide holistic support.

Digital companions can be also leveraged by pharmacists. They provide insights into patients’ medication taking behavior and patterns. When pharmacists counsel patients, they can view actual patient adherence and other metrics that patients choose to track making it possible to tailor counseling to a specific issue or challenge that the patient might not have shared otherwise. Eventually, this type of technology may be integrated into pharmacy prescription processing software enabling pharmacists to continuously monitor their patients, intervene when patients are flagged at risk for non-adherence, and deploy digital interventions in real time. 

As digital health evolves, pharmacists need to be prepared and empowered to help patients manage the tools they are using and leverage these technologies in their practice. 

About the Author

Julie Fishman is a business development and strategic partnerships executive with experience spanning across healthcare and life science industries. A pharmacist by training, a company founder, and a business executive, Julie has been responsible for growth as well as operations at digital health, biotech, healthcare and skincare/consumer products companies.

Passionate about innovation that improves the lives of patients, Julie works with digital health companies at all stages helping them commercialize their vision and turn it into revenue generation. A systems thinker, she currently oversees strategic partnerships at Medisafe, a leading digital therapeutic medication companion company, in addition to providing advisory services to several other companies and serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence at UCSD.

Previously, Julie has held BD and product development roles in biotech and healthcare and co-founded Quality Specialty Pharmacy in 2009 where she established and oversaw operations, clinical services, regulatory compliance, quality assurance, and partnerships growing it to a multi-million dollar company.

Julie holds a Master in Public Administration degree in Health Care Management and Finance from New York University and a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from State University of New York at Buffalo. She sits on several boards, including and the Dan McKinney Family YMCA and is a member of the Gala Committee for the Alzheimer’s Association Imperial Chapter and a former Chair of the Programs Committee for the Southern California Chapter of Women in Bio.