EHRHARDT -- In an era when rural health care services often lag behind those available in big cities, Ehrhardt Pharmacy is ahead of the times in innovation.
Ehrhardt owner and pharmacist Donna Avant has been providing health care education and medication management free of charge to her customers and the surrounding communities for many years. She was recently named the 2021 Pharmacist of the Year by the South Carolina Pharmacy Association in appreciation for her exemplary leadership.
In 2020, Avant began offering telehealth so customers could connect virtually to their health care providers from the pharmacy.
“Some of our customers have trouble arranging for transportation to their primary care physician, even if it’s just 20 miles away. This is especially problematic for those with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, who need consistent, periodic care. So, what happens is, people in rural areas like Ehrhardt often don’t get the care they need or take their medicines like they should,” said Avant. “Telehealth gives them the opportunity to connect to the primary care or specialist provider from the pharmacy and get the medicines they need all in one convenient location.”
Avant said that one customer came into the pharmacy with a very painful rash.
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“We called her doctor at Bamberg Family Practice for an urgent appointment, connected her to her doctor with telehealth, and used the general exam camera to show the doctor the rash. The customer was immediately diagnosed with shingles. She got the medicine she needed and was back home in short order,” said Avant. It’s amazing the clarity of the images that can be provided with this equipment – sometimes even better than being in person.”
The pharmacy also recently began connecting customers to their behavioral health providers for regularly scheduled appointments through the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and its Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center.
Chelsea Hilliard of Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center’s Bamberg County Clinic said, “My patients’ experiences have been good. Telehealth is easy to use for the patient, and the sessions have gone very well. It is especially nice for both the patient and me to see each other and interact in person on the telehealth computer screens, even though we’re miles apart. I think it makes the patient feel more comfortable than just a telephone conversation.”
The telehealth equipment at Ehrhardt Pharmacy was purchased through a federal grant that was awarded to Palmetto Care Connections (PCC), a non-profit telehealth network that provides telehealth, broadband and technology services to rural health care providers throughout the state.
“PCC is proud of the partnership we have established with Ehrhardt Pharmacy. Donna Avant has truly been a champion in delivering telehealth and health education to her customers,” said PCC CEO Kathy Schwarting.
Currently Ehrhardt Pharmacy is connected to providers at Bamberg Family Practice for primary care with plans to connect to providers at Low Country Health Care System in the near future.
“We are also very pleased that the South Carolina Department of Mental Health is providing telemental health services at Ehrhardt Pharmacy because there is such a need for easy access to those services. We look forward to continuing to expand primary care and specialty care telehealth services at other rural locations,” Schwarting.
For more information about telehealth at Ehrhardt Pharmacy, contact the pharmacy staff at 803-267-2121.
Established in 2010, PCC is a non-profit organization that provides technology, broadband, and telehealth support services to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in S.C. PCC received the National Cooperative of Health Network Association’s 2021 Outstanding Health Network of the Year award.
PCC co-chairs the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, along with the Medical University of South Carolina, serving as an advocate for rural providers and partnering with organizations to improve health care access and delivery for all South Carolinians.