Pharmacy organizations such as the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) and the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) are advocating for structural changes to health care based on lessons learned from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Although the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has created new problems for patients and providers, it also is introducing new forms of care that ultimately may improve the way medicine is practiced, said panelists from the 2020 Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) Annual Meeting.
Telemedicine is increasingly practiced used to provide health care access to individuals who can’t visit their doctors’ offices, and the development and use of digital therapy technologies have been expedited by the FDA during this crisis. These tools will play a valuable role, the speakers said.
“One example that's been made available as a result of [COVID-19] is a product to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that's like a video game. It was under review by FDA and the company has chosen to make it available,” said panelist Susan Cantrell, RPh, CEO of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP).
“I think what we've seen in this crisis is we have to look for innovative ways to deliver care, and ways that we might have had on our radar screen but there were barriers to implementation. Many barriers have now been lifted,” she said.
Providers have worried about drug shortages for patients with chronic conditions who rely on treatments such as hydroxychloroquine and albuterol, for arthritis and asthma, respectively, Cantrell said. These products have been in short supply owing to their widespread employment for treatment of patients with the new coronavirus. There has also been controversy surrounding the use of hydroxychloroquine for patients with COVID-19.
“Everything seems to be a moving target at this point, and certainly therapies to combat COVID-19 are no exception to that. We've been hearing from our members that they need more information, more clinical evidence as it becomes available. And they need it quickly, especially looking at products that are being moved through under expedited approval or emergency use authorization,” said Cantrell.
Advocacy for Change to Federal Leaders
Panel leader, Laura Cranston, RPh, CEO of PQA, said the AMCP and the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) have established lobbying groups and advocate for their members at the federal level to encourage new legislation that could relieve some of the burdens caused by the pandemic. This includes demanding improvements to the pharmacy supply chain.
“We've joined a coalition with the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the Association for Accessible Medicines and others to start a dialogue with the administration and the congressional leadership on how we could leverage public/private sector collaboration to improve the integrity and reliability of the pharmaceutical supply chain,” said Cantrell.
The mass unemployment caused by the pandemic—more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past 2 months—has created huge financial uncertainty for many individuals, including patients with the new coronavirus, who may spend weeks hospitalized or on a ventilator, which can be extremely costly.
Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the ACHP, worries many will postpone care to avoid financial hardship.
“Much of our dialogue with Capitol Hill right now is around the importance of coverage and care at this very vulnerable point in our history. The last thing we want is for individuals to not go and get tested or get treated because they don't have coverage, or they're concerned about what's covered,” she said.
The Importance of Expanding Digital Therapeutics
Expanded use of telehealth medicine during the COVID-19 crisis is expected to continue once the pandemic is brought under control. Cantrell suggested that most people, regardless of age, can navigate telehealth services, which are increasingly easier to use.
Although many health care institutions have invested in telehealth as a result of COVID-19, federal action is needed to ensure all citizens can reap the benefits, Connolly said.
Patients don’t have elaborate computer equipment. “They have a telephone, and so we need to be able to get to those folks, and we need to be super nerdy and wonky [to help them], Connolly said. One way to begin, she added, is by having a conversation about improving access with CMS.
Another important development is the response to the growing need for food assistance, Connolly noted. “So many of our members that have had ‘food as medicine’ or food pharmacy programs are now expanding those very quickly and thinking about those at-risk populations and how we reach them where they are.” That could include “driving a van around the community to bring services to them—there are a lot of creative ways to reach individuals,” she said.
“This is that period for innovation and creative thinking about what the future looks like, and I think there's a great opportunity there,” said Cantrell.
Visit The Center for Biosimilars' conference page for more coverage of the 2020 PQA Annual Meeting.