Community Pharmacist-Physician Collaboration Can Help Prevent Flu Spread

Neuraminidase inhibitors prevent the spread of influenza within the body, but they don't directly eradicate the infection.

Neuraminidase inhibitors prevent the spread of influenza within the body, but they don’t directly eradicate the infection.

Nevertheless, this drug class can shorten the symptomatic and contagious periods and prevent unnecessary antibiotic use for respiratory complications.

Patients often attempt to self-treat when they first develop flu symptoms, and they rarely seek medical attention within the 48-hour window that neuraminidase inhibitor use would be appropriate. As a potential result, pharmacists are frequently the first health care professionals an ill patient sees after symptoms develop.

Availability of rapid influenza identification test kits and advanced clinical pharmacist training offer the opportunity for pharmacists to improve patient care. Of note, pharmacist-driven screening and care is less expensive than emergency department and urgent care visits.

A study published in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association showed that collaborative physician-community pharmacist program and point-of-care testing can increase timely neuraminidase inhibitor use.

The study authors enrolled 76 adult patients throughout 55 community pharmacies in Michigan, Minnesota, and Nebraska during the 2013-2014 influenza season. Pharmacists in the study had completed a Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) program and a 20-hour point-of-care testing certificate course.

The study excluded patients who had symptoms inconsistent with influenza or symptoms that lasted more than 48 hours. It also excluded patients who had received live influenza vaccine or neuraminidase inhibitor therapy within the previous 2 weeks.

The researchers based their study on previous data indicating pharmacist-physician collaboration might be useful.

The study’s influenza test positive rate (11%) was comparable with CDC summary data from the same season (17.3%). Five patients tested positive for influenza and received oseltamivir in accordance with the clinical practice agreements.

The pharmacy-driven program avoided unnecessary antibiotic use by identifying true influenza cases early. Follow-up calls found that 78% of all patients counseled reported feeling better 48 hours later.

Physician-community pharmacist collaborative practice encouraged timely neuraminidase inhibitor initiation among low-risk patients in the community setting. The study authors recommended further research of this model to treat suspected influenza.

Notably, influenza kills more than 48,000 Americans annually.