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5/14/2021

Pharmacy Leaders Discuss the Future of Telehealth at Virtual PELA Conference

Kate Traynor

Kate TraynorNews Writer
News Center

ASHP’s second Pharmacy Executive Leadership Alliance (PELA®) virtual conference, held May 11, welcomed pharmacy executives from across the country to share views and learn from experts about the emerging role of telehealth technology in U.S. healthcare.

A high point of the virtual conference was the keynote address from Mark McClellan, director and Robert J. Margolis, M.D., Professor of Business, Medicine and Policy at the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University in North Carolina.

McClellan, a past chief of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Food and Drug Administration, described how telehealth has become invaluable to patient care — especially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He cautioned that although there’s a “huge amount” of support for continuing the regulatory flexibilities that have allowed pharmacists and other healthcare providers to deliver remote care during the pandemic, indefinitely extending those flexibilities in a fee-for-service environment may not be a viable way forward.

Instead, McClellan urged healthcare leaders to build on existing alternative payment systems that provide telehealth as part of a broader slate of services that support outcomes-focused, team-based models of care.

“Patients, especially those who have complex conditions, the ones that are going to most likely benefit from some of the new drugs and advanced technologies that are coming along, they’re going to need more than just the same services they would get in an office visit or a visit to a pharmacy,” McClellan said. “They need a whole set of wrap-around services that technology, digital technologies, and other innovations are making increasingly possible to provide.”

ASHP Chief Executive Officer Paul W. Abramowitz told PELA participants that telehealth is “an opportunity for the pharmacy profession to extend its reach to patients, to provide optimal medication management and complex patient care.” He said ASHP views telehealth as a strategic priority for the organization, supported by advocacy efforts, educational offerings, and member engagement activities, including a focus on telehealth within the ASHP Innovation Center. AJHP will publish a theme issue on telehealth later this year.

ASHP President Thomas J. Johnson, in the virtual event’s opening remarks, called telehealth “a topic of strategic importance to healthcare in this country.” He added that PELA participants “have all experienced how telehealth has rapidly expanded” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event’s participants focused on four main objectives:

  • Discuss the opportunities for telehealth to improve healthcare in the United States and the necessary enablers to foster adoption by providers and patients.
  • Discuss tactics, state and federal regulations, and long-term planning for innovative health-system practice models that leverage patient access through telehealth and virtual health technologies.
  • Discuss innovations and disruptors that hospitals and health systems must develop, implement, and respond to in order to maintain marketplace competiveness and enterprise sustainability.
  • Discuss unique challenges faced by pharmacy executives as they lead the pharmacy enterprise and identify solutions and opportunities with telehealth innovations and population health.

The virtual conference also included remarks from a physician executive panel led by Andrew R. Watson, vice president for clinical information technology transformation and practicing colorectal surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Watson, along with Helen Burstin, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Council Of Medical Specialty Societies, and cardiologist Ritu Thamman, assistant clinical professor of medicine at UPMC, identified remote monitoring technologies as a potential critical part of telehealth in the near future. They also predicted that telehealth technology will be a key driver in the expansion of hospital-at-home care models.

PELA Chair and ASHP Immediate Past President Kathleen S. Pawlicki led an afternoon panel with pharmacists Sandra Kane-Gill, professor of pharmacy, critical care medicine, and biomedical informatics and clinical translational sciences at the University of Pittsburgh; Marybeth Kazanas, system director of clinical pharmacy services at MedStar Health; and Tricia Killingsworth, national director of pharmacy integration at Ascension Health/AscensionRx.

The panelists discussed telehealth adoption from a patient-focused perspective that also balances the needs of clinicians and their organizations to provide standardized, efficient care. The group identified pharmacogenomics, remote monitoring, and patient-satisfaction metrics as areas where pharmacists may be able to help integrate telehealth into the overall package of patient care.

During breakout sessions, the PELA participants addressed overcoming barriers to the adoption of telehealth; regulatory challenges to implementing telehealth; telehealth initiatives involving pharmacists at participants’ organizations; ways that telehealth supports or hinders patient-centered care; and transformational changes involving telehealth that are needed to optimize medication use.

An overview of the event’s findings will be released in an upcoming executive summary, and a detailed description will be published in AJHP.

For additional information about PELA, including the findings of last year’s summit, visit the initiative’s webpage at ASHP.org.

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