With pharmacists being the most accessible health care providers, it is easy to see why considerations should be made regarding the expansion of their role during and after the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

With lockdowns common worldwide, pharmacies are an example of a business that has remained open to serve the public during these trying times. Pharmacists answer questions for patients regarding their health on a daily basis, whether it be on the phone about medications or in person when someone is experiencing symptoms.

It is important for pharmacists to know when to refer someone or whether an OTC recommendation is warranted and is sufficient to address their symptoms. As an integral part of the health care system, pharmacists are trained to provide valuable knowledge to patients regarding disease states, and COVID-19 is no different. Although COVID-19 may not have been taught to pharmacists in pharmacy school, it is something they are learning about quickly, whether it be through work or during free time.

When it comes to expanding the role of the pharmacist during COVID-19, the United States can look for ideas from pharmacists from other countries. For example, in New Zealand, the government has provided hotline numbers for phone consultations and prescription orders.1 In Pakistan, pharmacists are providing telehealth services to help reduce the burden on physicians.1

With the burden on other health care workers increasing during this pandemic, pharmacists can help reduce it.

“Countries that have been severely hit by the pandemic and who are experiencing a burnout of health care workers are using pharmacists to help triage patients,” wrote the authors of a study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.1

Practices such as these can be implemented in the United States in regions beyond just those severely hit by the pandemic. Triaging is an important way to make sure those patients who need health care are receiving it while those who are safe to stay home aren’t occupying slots in hospitals and clinic waiting rooms.

Services such as triaging are not so far-fetched to implement in a community pharmacy. A simple questionnaire with checking temperature can be sufficient enough for determining who needs to be treated. These are things that pharmacists are definitely trained to do.

Clinical pharmacists can also help with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those who are part of an antiviral stewardship. Since a substantial portion of the cases are in those individuals working in health care, it is imperative that we know how to reduce the transmission of the virus within hospitals and this is a role that clinical pharmacists can contribute to.

Since there is no FDA-approved medication to treat COVID-19, drugs are being used off label for prophylaxis and treatment. Pharmacists are integral in reviewing these medications and interpreting the information for a clinician as to whether or not they would be an appropriate treatment.2

More collaboration between health care workers and pharmacists could be helpful in determining whether certain medications can help with the virus since not every clinician has a pharmacist on hand to consult when evaluating drug information. Pharmacists can support medical providers by being a resource regarding antiviral medications and disease states.

Once COVID-19 tests are readily available, pharmacists can help administer them in community settings so physicians’ offices are not so overwhelmed with patients. As the health care system continues to become burdened, pharmacists can undergo additional training to “collect specimen, expand immunizations, and independently evaluate medications through therapeutic interchange.”3

It has also been suggested that reimbursement barriers be removed in order to help pharmacists contribute to halting the COVID-19 pandemic as much as possible.3 Removing these barriers can make services flow more smoothly and without roadblocks delaying treatment.

Some states are implementing laws that are allowing pharmacists to expand their roles temporarily, but these laws vary by state and there is no uniformity in what all pharmacists can do during this time.

Given proper training on top of the training pharmacists already have, they can contribute greatly to lessening the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on other health care professionals and the communities they serve.

About the Authors
Shivangi Patel is a PharmD Candidate at Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, anticipated to graduate in spring 2021.

Jonathan Ogurchak, PharmD, CSPis the founder and CEO of STACK, a pharmacy compliance management software, and serves as preceptor for a virtual Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiential Rotation for specialty pharmacy, during which this article was composed.

References
  1. Bukhari N., Rasheed H., Nayyer B., et al. Pharmacists at the frontline beating the COVID-19 pandemic. J of Pharm Policy and Pract. 2020;13 doi:10.1186/s40545-020-00210-w.
  2. Gross AE, MacDougall C. Roles of the clinical pharmacist during the COVID ‐19 pandemic. JAACP. 2020;3:564-566.
  3. N/A. Pharmacists As Front-Line Responders For COVID-19 Patient Care. https://www.pharmacist.com/sites/default/files/files/APHA%20Meeting%20Update/PHARMACISTS_COVID19-Final-3-20-20.pdf. Written: N/A. Accessed: 18 June 2020.