Enter Glendale Adventist Medical Center, which although hundreds of miles away is equipped with — and in the process of expanding — a 24-hour “telepharmacy” program where full-time pharmacists are on call to review medication options for the doctor.
Under the program, the rural hospital doctor would fax his pharmaceutical recommendation to the hospital, or connect in real time with a pharmacist via webcam, and wait for review.
It’s a relatively new model in healthcare services for rural hospitals and the recurrent or one-time patients they treat, Nelson said.
Glendale Adventist has been providing this off-site service for one of its Northern California sister hospitals under the same Adventist Healthcare nonprofit umbrella for a year, but with a new $664,688 grant from PacifiCare and UnitedHealth Group, the center is looking to expand the service to eventually assist all 62 rural hospitals in California, he said.
PacifiCare and UnitedHealth Group awarded the grant Thursday as part of a $6-million package given to 15 California nonprofits, officials from both companies said.
At Glendale Adventist, the grant will pay the salaries of up to nine new pharmacists who will staff a new unit solely dedicated to assisting rural hospitals and cover the technology costs for webcams and a secure online network, Nelson said.
The state and federal government require hospitals to have a certified pharmacist, but some rural facilities with limited resources might satisfy the requirement by having a single pharmacist on call, Nelson said.
The challenge for smaller facilities to attract certified pharmacists is exacerbated by a statewide pharmacist shortage of about 2,500 — professionals are graduating at a slower rate than they are retiring — and new pharmacists tend to go to urban hospitals, Nelson said.
And while doctors themselves often recommend medications for each patient, it’s the certified pharmacist’s role to review the recommendation against the patient’s condition, medical record and other characteristics that could alter the medicine’s effect, he said.
“With technology, the distance is transparent,” Nelson said.
“They could be right next door to us. They could be in the same building.”