Tue | Oct 19, 2021

Health+Tech | Creating an online network of pharmacies

Published:Saturday | September 11, 2021 | 12:06 AM

The rate of COVID-19 vaccination has not been as fast as we would like, despite the reality that we are facing with the recent introduction of the more infectious Delta variant, and now the Mu variant, into the island.

Jamaica’s routine vaccination programme has always been one of our strengths in public health and had made us immune to a number of vaccine-preventable illnesses over the years. Many strategies have been used as part of that drive and I think, although the situation is a bit different and would be more extensive, we could perhaps introduce more home visits for those unable to transport themselves to vaccination centres.

I was told of an elderly person who was taken to a vaccination site by a relative but was unable to leave the vehicle. The nurse and registration personnel attended to patient while he sat in the car. Thankfully, he had a caregiver who could take him back and forth. However, there are several in his position who are not as fortunate. The recognition of the needs of this group is why I have continuously advocated for remote and delivery services in healthcare.

Once we are able to provide either in-person or remote healthcare services to this group, another important component will be pharmacy services. Many pharmacies already allow persons to request medication using electronic means such as text messaging, as long as the image of the prescription can be sent.

There are two ways that this can be handled. In a fully digitised health ecosystem where doctors are able to email prescriptions to pharmacies, once the consultation is done, this can be handled within the health information management system that the facility has in place. In this case, the patient can simply inform the doctor of their preferred pharmacy and then pick up their prescription when it’s ready.

‘REMOTE PHARMACY VILLAGE’

The second way is to have pharmacies on an e-commerce network where patients can simply go online, choose a pharmacy, upload a prescription to their preferred one and have it delivered to them. A few local e-commerce businesses have the capacity to do this. In a similar way that they have a block of restaurants that are part of the ENDS programme that people can choose, they would have a block of pharmacies across the island that people can select to fill their prescription and the regular delivery services would accommodate getting it to their door.

Pharmacies benefit from being a part of this ‘remote pharmacy village’ because they would be able to sell all their products online, not just prescription or over-the-counter items. As we know, many pharmacies have other products that sometimes are more lucrative for the business than just having drugs alone. This would not have to change once they go online. All their inventory can be included and be a part of the delivery system.

This would make it easier for pharmacies to provide services online. They would not have the trouble of developing and maintaining their own website. All the logistics would be done for them via the e-commerce site. They would just have to package items and maintain inventory.

SHOP FROM COMFORT OF HOME

There would be benefits for patients, too. It would save travel time, and for those who are unable to leave home, it would allow them to easily access their medication and have them delivered. Caregivers and families who do not live with these persons can order items on their behalf and have them delivered to their homes, no matter their location. Patients would be able to ‘shop around’ from the comfort of their homes, and find pharmacies that have their items available without the frustration of travelling from place to place to find an item. People may also have preferred pharmacies and pharmacists and this way they would still have easy access to them if they changed location or if the patient moved further away.

This system can be ready to go in short order with the cooperation of pharmacy owners. All systems are already in place to move towards making it a reality. The online market is getting larger and larger because of customer demand. Pharmacies should take advantage of this digital paradigm shift.

n Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com and editorial@gleanerjm.com