Investigators are reporting favorable results with a program that allows a hospital pharmacy to employ pharmacists who are not able to work onsite in the hospital.
"The program has been a 'win-win' for all parties involved," said Sam Calabrese, RPh, MBA, director of inpatient pharmacy services at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
The program has decreased the need for on-site pharmacists to work overtime and allowed them to work on patient-care floors. It has also increased the amount of orders being processed.
The program has also provided for the first time an opportunity for pharmacists to practice their profession even when they are unable to work on-site at the hospital. "Other hospitals offer the same opportunity to a much smaller degree, and there are companies that do remote order entry for those hospitals that don't have third shifts. However, to my knowledge, we are the sole institution with an on-site pharmacy 24/7 that additionally employs pharmacists at home," he said.
"When we were examining our staffing patterns, we tried to determine how best to capture pharmacists in the workforce who were not able to work on-site in the hospital setting but who nonetheless had the skills required to safely verify and process pharmacy orders," Calabrese pointed out.
At the same time, the Cleveland Clinic was experiencing a "doubledigit" shortage in pharmacists. "The shortage was so acute that our pharmacists often had to work mandatory extra shifts," he added.
Pharmacists who wish to participate in the off-site program undergo on-site training that lasts about 3 months, after which they are required to complete all standard pharmacist competence assessments. Pharmacists who qualify for the program are provided with computers, cell phones, and reference materials. They typically communicate with on-site staff using instant messaging and the telephone. Order clarifications are pro cessed electronically, using electronic signatures and assistance from on-site pharmacists.
Calabrese said that work-at-home pharmacists are very satisfied with the program, and only one of 12 who signed up for the program has dropped out.
Finally, he noted that the at-home pharmacist's ability to track orders is one aspect of the program he would like to improve. "If a nurse calls and says a dose is missing and wants to know if the order is still being prepared in the IV room or is out on delivery, the at-home pharmacist can't answer that question," he said. He added that an Internet-based tracking system will soon be installed, which should be helpful.