As many restaurants, stores, and other businesses begin closing and limiting hours, pharmacists are becoming key players in the rush for reliable information on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Many state pharmacy associations are offering tips for pharmacists looking to prepare, while national societies have published recommendations for state policymakers in an effort to ensure pharmacists are able to best treat and care for patients.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times®, Shawn Hodges, president of the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding, said protecting pharmacy staff is vital to ensuring continued care during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to physical hygiene practices such as hand washing and wiping down surfaces, pharmacists need to consider their language and tone of voice when counseling patients on COVID-19 preparation, according to resources from the Ohio1 and Arkansas2 departments of health. Using calming and reassuring language is vital to ensuring that patients do not panic, but instead calmly prepare nd understand their options.

A fact sheet may also be helpful for common questions from patients, such as how prescriptions would be refilled in the case of a shutdown or what emergency supplies they should collect. Encourage patients to purchase cold medications and other commonly-used OTC items now, so that they do not have to leave their home unnecessarily should they feel ill.1

Some insurance companies have waived refill limitations so that patients have continued access to their medications over the coming weeks or months, therefore pharmacists should verify whether that is an option for their patients.3

Pharmacies should also work to establish a process for at-risk individuals to pick up their prescriptions without waiting in line. This may include drive-through options or delivery services, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.2

Some pharmacies are beginning to shut down foot traffic in the store, according to Jennifer Burch, PharmD, owner of Central Compounding Center in Durham, North Carolina. Keeping patients away from unnecessary public contact is vital, Burch said, and pharmacists have several options to help patients limit contact.

“We’ll bring it to your car, we’ll ship it, we’ll bring it to your house,” Burch said.

Hodges added that waiving shipping charges could encourage patients to stay home, especially for those who typically pick up their refills in the pharmacy.

Clinic waiting areas are also of particular concern and should have infection control procedures implemented:1
  • Staff should maintain a distance of 3 feet from asymptomatic patients and at least 6 feet from those who are actively symptomatic.
  • Use an Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant to clean counters, waiting areas, and other spaces in the waiting area. Surfaces should be cleaned at least every hour or after every 10 patients, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
  • Monitor all staff for sickness.
  • Update sick leave policies to include employees who have an ill family member and develop a post-illness return-to-work procedure.
  • Provide recommended actions for unprotected exposures.

Burch said her pharmacy has recently amped up their sanitizing practices.

“We’ve certainly changed our sanitizing,” Burch said. “We clean a lot already, but I’ve got staff who’s cleaning the counter and door handles after every person that walks in the building right now.”

Several pharmacy associations are also urging policymakers to take steps supporting pharmacists. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) has published recommendations including expanding pharmacists’ ability to order and administer immunizations and point-of-care testing for infectious diseases.4

“Whether as the medication experts in health care teams, as a primary health care resource in rural and underserved communities, or as the expert managing the drug supply and any potential drug shortages that could occur, pharmacists will be foundational to your state’s response to a disease outbreak,” concluded the ASHP recommendations.4

REFERENCES
  1. COVID-19 Checklist for Pharmacies. Ohio Department of Health,https://www.pharmacy.ohio.gov/Documents/Pubs/Special/COVID19Resources/COVID-19%20Checklist%20for%20Pharmacies.pdf. Accessed March 16, 2020.
  2. COVID-19 Guidance for Pharmacies. Arkansas Department of Health,https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/covid-19-guidance-for-pharmacies?fbclid=IwAR2vvhLvHPmPYGB-xkiLLS6-pC4U_HGcMndFQR-F69P7UpqdnweUEm8ThMc. Accessed March 16, 2020.
  3. APhA Urges Insurers, PBMs to Immediately Remove Barriers on Prescription Drug Refills for Coronavirus Preparedness [news release]. American Pharmacists Association; March 13, 2020. https://www.pharmacist.com/press-release/apha-urges-insurers-pbms-immediately-remove-barriers-prescription-drug-refills. Accessed March 16, 2020.
  4. Pharmacy Readiness for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; published March 2020.https://www.ashp.org/-/media/assets/advocacy-issues/docs/Pharmacy-Readiness-for-Coronavirus-Disease-2019-COVID-19-STATE.ashx?la=en&hash=6420DD319DEF9C0C008B161D36615C8E3229532B. Accessed March 16, 2020.