The coronavirus pandemic has marked a sea change in how Canadians receive health care. While just four per cent of primary care visits were conducted virtually pre-pandemic, that rose to roughly 60 per cent after the onset of the global health crisis.

This represents an opportunity to reshape how health care can be delivered and, in particular, to improve the pharmacy experience through easy virtual delivery, said Jason Kennedy, general manager of virtual pharmacy at TELUS Health, during Benefits Canada’s 2022 Tech Insights conference in mid-April.

The company launched the TELUS Health Virtual Pharmacy app, which is currently being used by more than 61,000 Canadians, to enhance the health-care experience. The app has an online patient portal and mobile app to make the medication management process both easier and more transparent for patients.

Read: 2022 Group Benefits Providers Report: Virtual platforms reshaping public, private health-care landscape

It also includes features such as medication profile sharing with loved ones, an ability to book virtual appointments with pharmacists at a convenient time and a degree of visibility and control that Kennedy said is typically hidden behind the pharmacy counter and inaccessible to patients.

“It’s a way of putting health care at the fingertips of Canadians and of patients and really helping empower people to better understand and connect with their medication regimens,” he said. “This will really form the foundation that we look to build to begin to optimize the patient journey within the digital health-care ecosystem that is TELUS Health.”

In Canada, home delivery and virtual pharmacy solutions have historically lagged behind international markets, where they are in some cases responsible for up to 20 per cent of prescription fulfillment. But with the pandemic making Canadians more receptive to virtual care, Kennedy said he believes that will change.

Virtual pharmacy solutions could also improve trends around medication non-adherence and rising chronic conditions. One-third of Canadians said they often missed picking up their prescriptions, due in part to increasingly busy lifestyles, according to a survey conducted by Leger for TELUS Health. Kennedy said the finding could mean more people are missing medications and putting their health care at risk.

Read: Plan Sponsor Week: Using analytics to monitor non-adherence, disease states

He also pointed to data from TELUS Health that’s found drug costs for people managing multiple medications are 16-times higher than for the average plan member, something that could worsen as short- and long-term disability claims increase post-pandemic.

TELUS Health Virtual Pharmacy emerged from the organization’s acquisition of Alliance Pharmacy Group in February 2021. TELUS combined Alliance’s “rich history” of mail-order pharmacy fulfillment across Canada, with the exception of Quebec, and its own technological know-how to improve the pharmacy experience for patients, said Kennedy.

The virtual pharmacy app can support employers’ workforces by allowing users to manage their and their family’s medications through the easily-understandable online dashboard, he added, something that he himself uses frequently to assist his 79-year-old father in managing his prescriptions.

“He’s on six medications — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — but he’s run out of ‘the white one.’ He needs the one that has ‘the five on it.’ ‘Could I get the one with the little blue square on it?’

Read: The benefits of digital pharmacy for plan sponsors, members

“That’s not conducive to good care or good continuity for me — and I even know what these pills look like. We have [our medications] in a centralized place now where I can start to support his needs, I can manage his refills, but most importantly, I can cue him to see if he’s running low.”

Plan members who take multiple medications can also access a TELUS solution called MedPack, which is meant to help them manage numerous prescription.

The app’s services also have lower dispensing fees and lower mark-ups, which has cost-containment benefits for employers. It provides plan members with the ability to have their prescriptions filled quickly at the moment they need them and delivered by mail to their home, said Kennedy, noting the patient portal shows how many refills plan members have left, how many days are left until their last refill and gives them customized prompts when a refill is coming up to ensure continuity.

“Convenience is key. Accessibility from a smartphone that can take just a few minutes without having to take time off work is really leaning into this convenience idea. But more importantly, . . . we’re really looking to make sure we’re building an engaging model, combined with the virtual model, to start to build trust.”

Read more coverage from the 2022 Tech Insights conference.