Government, Health Care, and Retail

Virtual pharmacist

Proposed bill would allow pilot projects for pharmacist consultations via video.

September 27, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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The Michigan Senate recently gave unanimous approval to a measure sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, that could lead to new approaches in the way medical prescriptions are delivered to the end-user.

Senate Bill 373 would enable pharmacies to conduct pilot projects involving new or expanded technologies or processes to provide patients with prescription drugs in a more efficient manner.

Hansen said that, currently, automated machines are allowed to dispense prescription drugs in limited designated facilities, such as hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. However, Michigan pharmacists are required to be available for questions from customers each time a new prescription is dispensed, regardless of the location.

Hansen said Michigan law does not take into consideration technology that would allow the customer to communicate with a pharmacist via a video screen. By authorizing the Michigan Board of Pharmacy to conduct a pilot project, dispensing machines could be installed in conjunction with a live video link to allow customers to consult with pharmacists via video.

According to an analysis of proposed SB 373 by the Senate Fiscal Agency, many pharmacies in rural areas have closed because their sales revenue could not support the salary of a licensed pharmacist.

“Reportedly, more than 900 rural pharmacies nationwide have closed in the last six years, leading to nearly 6,000 lost jobs and 4.8 million underserved residents,” states the SFA analysis.

It has been proposed that a pharmacist could effectively supervise several pharmacies simultaneously, via the Internet.

“Under a current rule, however, a pharmacist may oversee only one pharmacy at a time,” wrote the SFA analyst.

“Authorizing pilot projects, such as the use of video technology, gives pharmacies the ability to explore innovative ideas on a small scale under controlled conditions,” Hansen said. “If these ideas are successful, they could then be offered across Michigan.”

Hansen emphasized his bill will not affect the doctor-patient relationship.

“Doctors will still be the ones prescribing the medication,” he said. “Pharmacies will simply fill those prescriptions. A patient’s relationship with his or her doctor remains vital to ensure patient safety and effective health care.”

“This legislation will maintain and enhance patient access to necessary pharmacy services while ensuring the patient’s safety,” said Hansen.

SB 373 has been sent to the Michigan House for consideration.

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