In the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, patients in rural areas continue to face existing challenges to care, such as poverty, inconsistent information about the virus, and lack of transportation. Pharmacies that serve these populations are focused on bringing the best care possible to their communities and are working hard to provide their patients with high-quality services.

Michael Rush, PharmD, BCACP, CDE, NCTTP, of Ohio Northern University (ONU), said that serving the community is now more important than ever, specifically through the ONU HealthWise community pharmacy and mobile clinic options.

“The mobile clinic continues to provide many of our customary services throughout the region where we can,” Rush said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “Many individuals in our region have come to rely on us for our clinical and educational services.”  

In addition to offering a telephone service to patients who cannot come to the pharmacy, the mobile clinic is now at the disposal of area health agencies as the COVID-19 pandemic expands.

“ONU HealthWise Pharmacy has expanded prescription delivery to the entire region, a 40-mile radius, to improve access to medications and pharmacist services during this national emergency,” Rush said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “We offer home visits where it is safe to do so. We’ve also introduced curbside medication pickup and mail prescriptions as a means of assisting high-risk individuals.”

Tripp Logan, PharmD, vice president of SEMO Rx Pharmacies in Missouri, explained to Pharmacy Times® that although many of their patient outreach services have been affected in some way by COVID-19, the pharmacies have been able to adjust as more information comes forward.

For example, SEMO Rx Pharmacies has adopted many of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network’s (CPESN) best practices to optimize care, according to Logan. To reach at-risk patients, his pharmacy has been working with the county health department, department of public safety, senior center, Meals on Wheels service, school district, and local care providers to help members of the community receive the support, medication, food, and supplies they need.

In terms of reaching patients who need home delivery, Logan said that although personalized home delivery services have been part of SEMO Rx for more than 40 years, a local shelter in place guidance has caused delivery requests to increase. To overcome this challenge, a system has been developed to coordinate deliveries closely with patients to minimize driver-to-patient contact while ensuring essential medications are as accessible as SEMO Rx pharmacists are for follow up care.

“We believe this patient coordination is very valuable today, because outside of COVID-19, there are millions of patients across the country with chronic conditions who are being advised against office visits with medical providers right now,” Logan said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “Somebody needs to keep an eye on them while our health care system is overwhelmed with COVID-19. That's us.” 

SEMO Rx joined with other community pharmacies last week in engaging their state Medicaid programs to push for waiver requests to reimburse for home delivery and follow up service, according to Logan.

“Let us work to keep stable patients with chronic conditions out of the hospital so hospitals can focus on COVID-19,” Logan said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “Timing is important here because with today's reimbursement, none of us can afford to offer these services for free for very much longer.”