Video Conferencing and Technology Bring a Virtual Pharmacy to Earth

April 5, 2006
CONTACT: Suzanna Cisneros Martinez,
(806) 743-2143

LUBBOCK – Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center officially launched it second telepharmacy project Wednesday (April 5). Residents of Earth, a community in northern Lamb County that has no pharmacy, can now have prescriptions filled locally and speak with a Health Sciences Center pharmacist in Lubbock via telepharmacy. The state-of-the art video conferencing system is located at the Earth Medical Clinic, which is operated by Sid Ontai, M.D., of Plainview.

When a prescription is written at the clinic, patients are immediately connected to a Health Sciences Center pharmacist in Lubbock 60 miles away. Prepackaged drugs, already located in the clinic in a vending type machine, are dispensed remotely by the distant pharmacist. The pharmacist also counsels the patient and answers any questions. The entire transaction takes place in a manner very similar to a retail pharmacy, only the patient and pharmacist see each other via TV screens.

Don McBeath, director of telemedicine and rural health at the Health Sciences Center, said the telepharmacy projects are another facet of the university’s outreach into rural West Texas.

“Even when we successfully bring a doctor to a community or establish a telemedicine connection, without the immediate availability of getting prescriptions filled, a community remains underserved,” McBeath said. “Many communities are not large enough to sustain a full-scale retail pharmacy. This is a great solution. It is a virtual pharmacy.”

While mail order or online prescription purchases can be options, there is a delay in receiving the drugs and there is no personal interaction with the pharmacist.

The telepharmacy project in Earth is the second for the Health Sciences Center. The first project was in Turkey in September 2002, which was also the first telepharmacy project in Texas. State law allows a retail pharmacy to establish a video conference telepharmacy site in rural areas with no pharmacy. The concept is relatively new and there are only three other telepharmacy sites in Texas.

The project also will serve to train pharmacy students on long-distance pharmacy systems in rural areas and as a test site for telepharmacy operating models. Charles F. Seifert, Pharm.D., regional dean for the School of Pharmacy in Lubbock, said the school is the first in the United States that requires a telepharmacy and a rural clerkship.

“Telepharmacy provides the opportunity for pharmacists to work together with physicians and other health care providers, and gives them a first-hand view of the needs of rural communities,” Seifert said.

He added that the telepharmacy project in many ways could provide a higher quality of care for the rural residents. “With this project, the pharmacist has the patient’s medical records present and can provide an improved evaluation of the patient’s regimen, as well as answer any questions the patient may have regarding their medications,” said Seifert.

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, along with the Merck Foundation, provides funding for the Earth project. Telepharmacy Solutions of Vernon Hills, Ill., donated the prescription dispensing equipment.