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Adapting Pharmacy Workflow in the Era of Covid-19

Posted on August 5, 2020 by Alex Yampolsky

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, industries have had to get creative in order to maintain workflows and productivity while still adhering to social distancing measures. The community pharmacy setting is no different and must continue to adjust and account for the changing times. While essential businesses may remain open and reopening plans vary from state to state, social distancing recommendations are vital to promote safety and public health. Accommodating these precautions helps to ensure the health and safety of both patients and staff. In addition to masking, establishing partitions, and maintaining a six-foot distance whenever possible, it is wise to attempt to limit the amount of staff on site when possible. With a typical community pharmacy being staffed by pharmacists, technicians, stock managers, and cashiers, the essential workers that provide medications to our most vulnerable often have to work together in close quarters making distance and adequate ventilation all but impossible.

Pharmacies have already adopted some measures to help combat this problem, however, there is a key opportunity to restructure workflows and move some day-to-day tasks off-site by maximizing the use of technology.

For stores that typically have multiple pharmacists on staff, divvying up workflow functions can help improve productivity when working remotely. While one pharmacist must be on site to perform final checks on all prescriptions prepared, another pharmacist can connect remotely to their desktop computer to perform duties like clinical review, allergy checking, and drug interaction monitoring. Ensuring correct billing and adjudication is integral to a pharmacy’s bottom line and should be performed routinely to prevent any dispensing errors that could lead to substantial monetary loss due to an audit down the line. This two-pharmacist workflow enables two levels of verification on each prescription dispensed and ensures that the pharmacist off-site can monitor for safety and adequate reimbursement.

Many day-to-day functions can typically take away from workflow and divert attention away from patients both in the store and on the telephone. It is very useful to identify these tasks and, whenever possible, assign them to any off-site staff you may have available. Calls to patients to counsel them at home on newly delivered medications, MTM services, patient follow-ups, doctors’ calls, patient questions, and more can all be routed to the at-home pharmacist to ensure that on-site staff can be freed of calls and interruptions that can affect workflows and cause distractions that could potentially lead to medication errors.

However, not all pharmacies typically have the need for multiple pharmacists on staff at a time. In these instances, it is important to recognize the many functions that can be done remotely that may not exclusively need a pharmacist’s attention. The reordering of stock and medications, order entry, birthday calls, refill reminders, and notifying patients that medications are ready for pickup are some functions that technicians can participate in from a remote location. Stores that have opted for a software solution that enables two-way texting between themselves and their patients may find this addition to the standard workflow difficult to manage. Designating an offsite representative may be an opportunity to manage this new form of communication and ensure that patient requests and questions do not fall through the cracks.  

These new personnel challenges can and should be viewed as an opportunity to rethink the way pharmacy as a profession is conducted. It has long been recognized that in order for pharmacists to perform at the top of their profession, a set of dedicated personnel is needed to make patient impact and clinical review a priority.

Amplicare’s software solutions go a long way to identifying opportunities to adjust pharmacy workflow and addressing them securely outside the pharmacy. With Medicare Open Enrollment fast approaching, remote utilization of our Match solution will become all the more necessary. Pharmacy staff can schedule calls and telepharmacy appointments with their patients and review their Medicare options remotely with the added convenience of Navigate, an online patient enrollment portal.

Pharmacies with access to Amplicare Restore and Amplicare Impact can dedicate their time to identifying and reaching out to the most critical and complex patients under their care. These patients will have the greatest need for medication review, MTM services, and by extension, are likely to have the greatest DIR impact to the store. They may have undocumented adverse events or nutrient depletions that could lead to poor compliance and outcomes. Addressing these patients’ needs through the use of remote dedicated staff not only benefits patient health but also the pharmacy’s bottom line.     

It is important that any work done remotely utilizes a secure connection and one that complies with HIPAA’s rules to protect patient health information privacy. To ensure that regulations are met, owners and managers will need to consult their IT providers and ensure any remote solutions they employ conform to state and federal regulations and laws. Amplicare’s suite of solutions are HIPAA compliant and can be accessed from any location through the use of a standard web browser.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, pharmacies may need to adjust their practices even further. Restructuring workflows to handle some routine tasks remotely can help ensure staff and patients are protected without compromising quality of service.

Alex Yampolsky, Pharm D,  is a pediatric clinical pharmacist and healthcare tech consultant.

To learn more about Amplicare’s HIPAA-compliant pharmacy solutions, reach out to us.