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A dose of innovation

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Feature Prescription for staffing | A dose of innovation | A bitter pill | Countering with service

Forman Pharmacy teleconferencing
Forman pharmacist Nathan Schlecht uses teleconferencing to expand his services reach, featuring this video conferencing connection he sustains with the Gwinner Telepharmacy and Wendy Swanson (on video monitor). Photo by Liza Kessel

Schlecht was an early adopter of telepharmacy in North Dakota, opening a satellite consultation site in 2002 in Gwinner, nine miles away. Prescriptions are accepted in Gwinner, prepared in Forman and delivered back to Gwinner.

Dan Churchill, an independent pharmacist in Bismarck, also owns pharmacies in New Salem, Glen Ullin and Edgeley, which he keeps open through telepharmacy support.

“It’s a way to maintain health care and pharmacy access in these small towns,” says the third-generation pharmacist. “This is an innovative program to allow us to maintain some of that access.”

The Bismarck native and 2003 NDSU School of Pharmacy graduate saw the need to keep rural pharmacies intact.

“I really have a passion for North Dakota in general and helping rural North Dakota to survive, because I know how important those towns are to the region and I know how important small-town North Dakota is to the rest of the state,” he says. “We need to invest in rural North Dakota so it continues to be what it is, which is a very important part of the fabric of our culture here.”

Through a telepharmacy connection, he works with pharmacy technicians at the three locations to fill prescriptions and consult with patients.

“Telepharmacy in North Dakota is innovative and unique and we have led the nation in a lot of our pharmacy practice initiatives here,” he says.

Through telepharmacy services, patients still have the convenience of a local pharmacy and the benefit of consultations with pharmacists, who may be miles away.

Until 2001, a pharmacy in North Dakota could not fill a prescription without a licensed pharmacist onsite. Pharmacy technicians had to be directly supervised in the same store.

That year, the N.D. Board of  Pharmacy adopted rules and procedures that allow a pharmacist in one town to supervise a technician in another through a real-time, secure video and audio link over the Internet. Thus, the North Dakota Telepharmacy Project was launched, the first of its kind in the country.

At a telepharmacy site like Churchill’s, the doctor’s prescription, the pharmaceutical company’s container with sample pills beside it to verify that the technician is filling the prescription with the correct drug, and the patient’s prescription bottle with the label of instructions face a camera.

Once the prescription is validated by the pharmacist in another store – over the Internet link – the patient enters a private consulting room in the telepharmacy, where the patient and pharmacist can then discuss the proper use of the medicine.

As of January 2016, 20 rural telepharmacies were operating in North Dakota.

Churchill credits the N.D. Board of Pharmacy, NDSU School of Pharmacy, the N.D. Pharmacists Association and the pharmacists themselves for the innovative practices being used by rural pharmacies.

“The association has always been very strong and innovative and fostered a culture of innovation. We have a strong pharmacy profession in North Dakota and we’re lucky to have that. The pharmacists of North Dakota are lucky for that and the citizens are direct beneficiaries of that innovative practice,” he says.