Weighing Pharmacy Staffing Models During COVID-19

It is without a doubt that COVID-19 has created a stressful work environment for many healthcare professionals and their facilities. The pharmacy department is not exempt. Being one of the largest cost centers in a hospital, it is often one of the most scrutinized. When patient volumes decrease and resources diminish, looking into the budget and making strategic maneuvers becomes a burden for directors and executives. Unfortunately, most administrators will tell you that spending on materials can often be marginally reduced, but the difficult truth is that the most impactful change to the expense line is labor costs. The question becomes, how does a facility maintain patient safety, but still decrease costs?

During the pandemic, cutting healthcare professionals seems illogical, but the economics of a healthcare facility are not immune to supply and demand. Clinics and hospitals have been seeing less clients for multiple reasons including, patients avoiding healthcare centers due to health risks and patients feeling that financial or time constraints don’t allow for utilizing healthcare.

Various solutions have been offered to combat the recent lack of patient volume. In the pharmacy department, patient safety is the highest priority and pulling onsite drug experts away from directly collaborating with the healthcare team and interacting with patients would be deleterious to that safety focus. By furloughing pharmacists, the health outcomes, costs, readmission rates, and so much more are at risk to be negatively impacted.

In the pharmacy department…

PTO coverage results in increased costs, even when in-house staff is utilized. If coverage from a temp-agency is required, there would be an increased cost for training and coverage. Facilities cannot absorb these numbers without decreasing the productivity of other employees and pulling away from their other essential tasks.

Regarding scalability and staffing efficiencies, very few options allow facilities to pay less for an employee if they are not at optimized levels of production. For example, if you have a pharmacist that has to verify 20 medication orders during one hour and 10 the next, a facility does not have the option of paying the employee a different amount for each hour.

Telepharmacy services, partnering with a remote team of clinical pharmacists and receiving 24/7 on call support, helps with labor cost issues and many other issues presented by COVID-19 by allowing for lower numbers of onsite staff members. Top benefits include increasing the ability to social distance, reducing the use of valuable personal protective equipment, and decreasing the risk of viral spread to objects and personnel, which can lead to a higher usage of PTO. Telepharmacy provides a tremendous outlet for staffing consistency, which impacts both productivity and safety. Instead of onboarding a temporary staff member that would join your team one week, and be gone the next, you can add an entire team of remote clinical pharmacists that will be trained to observe all of your policies and will have access to any updates or changes immediately, growing with you over the years.

Directly addressing PTO and other employee-related expenses, you will not have to pay telepharmacy PTO, you can avoid the costly HR onboarding process, you will skip the employee taxes and added cost for benefits, and you do not have to pay the high costs of temporary staffing. The efficiency that is added to your entire team by having telepharmacy handle remote order entry and verification is undervalued. Your onsite team can focus on direct clinical support, patient interactions, medication procurement and supply, etc. and allow your telepharmacy team to focus on the safety and wellness of your patients while processing medication orders.

Multi-tasking is another word for decreasing your overall productivity and taking on increased safety risks in healthcare.

Lastly, yet most importantly, the scalability offered through telepharmacy allows a facility to have 24/7 coverage of medication orders and pay for the work done and not the seat warmed.

With the significant amount of uncertainty in healthcare, hospitals and clinics are having to make difficult decisions. The ways that telepharmacy can allow a pharmacy department to maintain patient safety standards and decrease cost make it not only an attractive use of technology and flexible staffing, but an essential part of the future of healthcare.

Telepharmacy won’t replace the essential roles of the highly skilled onsite pharmacy team members, but it can play a major role to enhance the overall level of impact on patient outcomes.  While telemedicine and telehealth are innovative and exciting new approaches to healthcare, it’s time for telepharmacy to be leveraged to provide the same level of convenience and cost savings during this pandemic.   

To explore innovating your telepharmacy strategy, learn more here.