by Bill Deane, PharMerica
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended health care across the board, but one of the most impacted populations has been oeople with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). These individuals have struggled with access to care for a number of valid reasons. Like most everyone, physician appointments have been limited due to staffing shortages. Transportation has become more stressful and difficult. And, many people had to cancel or postpone visits over COVID-19 concerns because people with I/DD are more likely than members of the general population to die if they contract COVID-19.
In addition to missing appointments for routine or non-life-threatening medical issues, the inability of people with I/DD to access their physicians during the pandemic has prevented timely refills of medications, leading to a dangerous gap in care. An underlying reason for this is that prescribers cannot provide a continuation of drug therapy in good faith – even when it may be necessary – without first seeing a patient. And when it comes to treating patients with medications, adherence is a serious concern.
Many medications prescribed to individuals with I/DD are related to seizure disorders, in which a breakthrough seizure could be life-threatening. In other cases they’re behavior-modifying therapies that, if missed, could put a caregiver at unnecessary risk. In these cases and others, maintaining a medication regimen is essential to people with I/DD enjoying their normal daily activities and highest quality of life. This is particularly true for those with conditions that are more difficult to control and require frequent dosage or medication changes. Without a timely visit with their prescriber of record, those necessary modifications may not happen.
The utilization of telemedicine to address non-life-threatening issues has emerged as a solution to many of the challenges agencies and individuals with I/DD face – which has been life-saving. To leverage the benefits of telemedicine among our agencies and the individuals they serve, PharMerica has teamed with StationMD to enable timely virtual visits with doctors who are specially trained to address the complex health needs of the I/DD population, and can treat patients from the safety and comfort of home, whether that's their own residence, a group home or a congregate care setting.
The program, called the Bridge Refill Program, is provided at no cost to PharMerica agencies and is currently being piloted in Illinois. When an agency enrolls and they or an individual they support is unable to schedule a visit with the prescriber, we engage StationMD to arrange a telehealth physician consult for refills of existing prescriptions. These refills are intended to serve as a bridge until the patient is able to see their prescriber of record, maintaining continuity of care and reducing the likelihood of a negative outcome.
At PharMerica, we are excited by the prospect of meeting this distinct need among individuals with I/DD. And StationMD is equally as enthusiastic about what this program means: By providing a simple solution to assist in facilitating the refill process, together we can improve adherence and quality of care, while also easing agency stress.
Bill Deane is Senior Vice President of Senior Living at PharMerica.