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Expert Column: Paperless Medication Education


A number of regulations currently govern retail pharmacy operations to ensure that each facility meets the minimum requirements for safe practice. Included in these are guidelines mandating that patients be provided with information on their prescription medications.

What's not mandated, however, is the format of that information. This gap has led to a common misperception that’s negatively affecting pharmacy budgets and patient health literacy: that medication education leaflets must be provided in paper form.

No such universal requirement exists. Though there is a federal requirement to provide printed medication guides, the same isn't true for patient education leaflets. That means digital education information is a perfectly viable alternative, one that's less expensive and boosts medication safety and health literacy.

A Medication Education Crisis

Adults struggle to understand the instructions on medication labels. A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 79 percent of patients misinterpreted one or more of the 10 common prescription label instructions they encountered. Additional research has found that fewer than 25 percent of patients actually read the education sheets they receive with their prescriptions. Further, guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that the average printed education leaflet provides only 50 percent of the minimum amount of information needed to enable a patient to properly use a medication.

Add to that proprietary industry reports suggesting that one out of three prescriptions is picked up by someone other than the patient, completely eliminating the pharmacist-patient relationship, and it becomes clear that we're in the midst of a medication education crisis.

A Digital Solution

To correct a system that's at best ineffective, the industry must find a way to make patient education leaflets more accessible, comprehensive and understandable. The way to do that is to leverage the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology and replace printed information with properly scripted streaming video versions that are accessible whenever and wherever the patient needs them.

It's not as far-fetched as it may sound. A growing number of pharmacies and pharmacy vendors have already adopted digital patient education tools such as prescription-specific videos that can be streamed on-demand to a smartphone, tablet or computer to deliver critical dosage and side-effect information in clear, concise language.

Several pharmacy management software vendors are distributing digital patient education tools to their customers as a value-added service. For example, Rx30 in 2013 began offering MedsOnCue to its client base of thousands of community pharmacies, a move CEO Steve Wubker said came of the Ocoee, Fla.-based company's desire to provide pharmacies "with a truly innovative approach to engaging and educating patients, thereby improving health literacy and medication adherence while reducing adverse medication events."

The first to take advantage of the offering was Hobbs Pharmacy, in Merritt Island, Fla. Owner Mark Hobbs noted that the tool was "the ideal extension of our focus on providing the best health care possible by leveraging innovation and technology to meet our customers' needs, without losing the highly personal 'small business' feel our customers appreciate."

Moving Past Misperceptions

Eliminating the largely ignored printed medication information leaflets in favor of digital on-demand patient education tools makes smart business sense. All that's required is to give patients the choice to opt out of receiving printed information in favor of digital materials, similar to what pharmacies already do for child safety caps.

It's one simple and patient-centered solution that has the potential to save millions of dollars in wasted paper and toner for printed leaflets that go unread and are, at best, only partially understood.

More importantly, on-demand digital medication information improves health literacy. This, in turn, can help minimize an estimated $100 billion to $300 billion in annual costs associated with non-adherence, including avoidable hospitalizations, nursing home admissions and premature deaths.

Transitioning to paperless patient education enables pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole to redirect investments to more useful areas of concern. Even more crucial is that the improved education of patients may increase their self-reliance and reduce repeat consultations, providing an effective way to give personalized information and bridge the gap between pharmacist-patient relations and facilitating concordance with pharmaceutical health care.

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