Written By: Olufunke Sokan, MPharm, PharmD, Advanced Practice Pharmacist in the eHealth Center
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of Helping Hands stories authored by School of Pharmacy faculty, staff, students, trainees, and alumni who stepped up to assist their family and friends, colleagues, and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent implementation of social distancing guidelines, health care providers, clinics, and health systems are increasingly adopting the use of telehealth technologies for continuation of care delivery. The School of Pharmacy’s eHealth Center has been providing a broad range of clinical services to patients via telehealth since 2018, and is uniquely positioned to assist with the continuity of care.
When the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) shifted to distance learning in March, clinical rotations for Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students were impacted. With expertise in providing clinical services via telehealth, the eHealth Center’s pharmacists volunteered to provide a five-week telehealth learning experience for the students.
As a pharmacist at the eHealth Center, four students were assigned to work with me on the Mobile Integrated Health (MIH) program, a transition of care program aimed at decreasing emergency department visits and hospital readmissions by providing care to patients in the comfort of their homes post-hospitalization. A paramedic-nurse field team is supported by a multidisciplinary team that includes a pharmacist who is stationed in a remote location, but provides a medication management consultation via telehealth technologies. Not surprisingly, the students were apprehensive coming into the rotation. They wondered if they could have meaningful patient interactions via technology. To help address their concerns, I encouraged the students to chronicle their five-week rotation, allowing them to later reflect on the impact of their experience.
Below is an excerpt from fourth-year student pharmacist Tieu-Long Ton-Nu’s essay:
“For my five-week rotation, I was a part of the MIH program. It was an honor to be a part of this program, because it had already been utilizing telehealth long before others had started to embrace it in the midst of the pandemic. I participated in post-discharge follow ups with the MIH team via videoconferencing with patients. Although I was not physically with the patient, I could still perform many tasks that I would have done at a clinic, including conducting a medication reconciliation, counseling patients on their medications, and addressing any concerns about their medications.
“As with many technologies, there are limitations. While I did not encounter technical difficulties with the audio or video, it was hard for me to gauge if patients were paying attention when I was speaking, as patients were not always within the frame during video calls. One of the patients I spoke to had difficulties getting her medications during the pandemic. I was able to help connect her to a pharmacy to set up medication delivery. Another patient needed a refill on her inhaler, but her doctor’s office was closed due to COVID-19. I was able to contact one of her other doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center to write a prescription for the patient.”
Regardless of the environment, pharmacy students are in, they can still provide positive patient-centered care. I hope that all pharmacy schools will integrate telehealth into their curriculum in the near future.