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Latest news and updates about the Medicare and pharmacy industries.

How Pharmacists Are Stepping Up to Fight COVID-19

Posted on March 26, 2020 by Amplicare Team

In just a few short months, the spread of COVID-19 around the world has reached pandemic levels. The U.S. has been hit particularly hard and is now moving closer to becoming the new epicenter of the novel coronavirus. States already have various measures in place to help curb the spread of the virus, from recommendations on social distancing to full stay-at home orders.

During this time, pharmacies are stepping up in a major way to help patients and communities continue to have access to necessary medications and information. Below are some of the ways pharmacists and their staff are responding to the health crisis.

Offering Delivery and Curb-Side Pickup Services

As cities and states order non-essential businesses to close and individuals to stay home, pharmacies are ramping up delivery and curb-side pickup services to help their patients comply and protect their staff.

In North Carolina, Clinic Pharmacy and Brisson Drugs have initiated both options to ensure patients still have access to necessary medications. At first, a shortage of N95 masks meant staff had to get creative to ensure both they and their patients remained safe during pickups. “We have been using buckets on sticks to pass the medication into the car/truck window during curbside pickup,” says Joe Williams, who owns both pharmacies. Luckily, the pharmacies have been able to secure enough masks for staff and drivers, who are using a knock and drop method for deliveries. “We are making patients aware of our delivery protocol in advance of the drop off and ask that they remain in their homes,” says Williams, adding that the drivers stay to ensure the patients pick up their medications.

Luckily, the pharmacies have been able to secure enough masks for staff and drivers, who are using a knock and drop method for deliveries. “We are making patients aware of our delivery protocol in advance of the drop off and ask that they remain in their homes,” says Williams, adding that the drivers stay to ensure the patients pick up their medications.

Brisson Drugs' sign for COVID-19 effort

Williams and his staff are also being proactive about keeping patients up to date on pharmacy changes. “We also have custom outdoor signage made to ensure our patients understand our workflow and to prevent confusion,” he says. “We changed our IVR announcement to explain our proves to patients as well as a call campaign directed to all of our patients using Amplicare’s Call Campaign feature.”

At Hinkle Pharmacy in Alabama, owners Wade and Tanner Hinkle have been following the virus for a few months and bought masks early on — a precautionary measure which Wade says has paid off. “We couldn’t get any of them after that,” he says. “We tried to get thousands of them but they were all gone by the time we really got serious about it.” 

Initially, the pharmacy set up a “coronavirus section” for patients, including everything from vitamins and zinc to hand sanitizers and disinfectants. However, the pharmacy is currently operating as a drive-through with staff members meeting with patients outside and running transactions at the window. “This way, we can prevent anybody going in the store who may be sick,” Hinkle says.

Compounding Hand Sanitizer

Hand hygiene is important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While handwashing with warm water and soap is the recommended method, hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol are also acceptable. Unfortunately, hand sanitizers have been sold out for weeks across the country. As manufacturing companies try to increase production, pharmacies are also helping with supply by making hand sanitizers.

“We’ve been compounding hand sanitizer due to national shortages from traditional manufacturers,” Williams says. “We sell out every batch within minutes of making.”

Earlier this month, the FDA encouraged licensed pharmacists to create hand sanitizers and provided a recipe to follow with suggested measurements for alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, and sterile water. It also noted it won’t take action against licensed professionals using high quality ingredients to make hand sanitizers for public use.

Hinkle is also producing hand sanitizers at his compounding lab, which he supplies to customers as well as healthcare facilities. “We are delivering hand sanitizers to the hospital across the street because they were really low,” he says. “We had a bunch of doctor’s offices tell us that staff and patients are using a ton of it and they’re also running out.”

One issue he faced was the availability of alcohol after a patient had cleaned out his store. After visiting a number of local businesses, including hair salons, he was able to secure enough alcohol through purchases or donations to make hand sanitizers to distribute to doctors’ offices as well as first responders like police officers and firefighters. He's also considering the option of increasing production to be able to reach more facilities.

Managing Medications

Hoarding is an unfortunate side effect of crises. As news spread about stores selling out of everything from toilet paper to flu medications, pharmacies like Williams’ are ensuring that patients are able to get medications if and when they need them. “We have done our best to have a sufficient supply of possible support medications during the outbreak without hoarding from other pharmacies,” Williams says. “We are making our best attempts to calm fears and allocating medications to patients in a responsible manner.”

Some states are also giving pharmacies the go-ahead to fill 30- to 90-day supplies of prescription medications where possible. Kentucky, for instance, recently issued an executive order allowing pharmacists to fill prescriptions for 30 days and provide emergency refills if they can’t contact a patient’s physician. Pharmacists are also able to set up mobile stations by permit to help patients. These measures will help increase patient access and make it easier for those at risk of illness to stay home.

Educating Communities

As the most accessible healthcare providers, pharmacists are trusted sources of information. This puts them in a good position to dispel misinformation about the virus and offer accurate details about prevention, symptoms, and what measures to take if infected. In addition to sharing information in their stores and communicating with patients through call campaigns, some pharmacies are also using social media to share tips for patients.

Cypress Pharmacy in Fort Myers, Florida, for instance, took to Instagram to share tips for avoiding viral illnesses. It, like many other pharmacies, has also provided updates on its service for its followers.

As coronavirus cases continue to grow across the country, pharmacists are watching any developments so they are ready to adjust their plans if necessary. Hinkle, in particular, is keeping a close eye on the drug supply chain in case there are any disruptions from China, the world’s largest supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients, and India, which supplies nearly half of the U.S.’ generic drugs. 

“I’ve been talking to a ton of secondary wholesalers and they’re telling me that a lot of [our] chemical plants have 3 to 6 months of raw materials on hand, so it shouldn’t be a big deal unless this goes into a 6-month ordeal or even a 3-month ordeal,” he says.

Still, he’s erring on the side of caution, buying medications his patients need and monitoring the situation in case he needs to act fast (Alabama currently has just over 500 confirmed cases). In the meantime, his priority is ensuring his customers are safe. “We’re talking to all of our customers,” he says. “If it does get worse here, we’re planning on doing a delivery service and we may even extend it to where we go to get groceries for them. I’ve talked to some local grocery stores and they don’t have a delivery service set up.”

He adds, “If it gets bad here and people can’t leave and they completely shut us down, I want to make sure my patients are okay.”

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