COVID-19: Times of Crisis Can Bring Out The Best in Pharmacy

Now is the time for pharmacists to stand even taller and provide more help to their communities.

As the most accessible health care professionals in the community, pharmacists will soon be on the frontline of a war against an opponent unlike any other that our society has faced in recent history. We currently find ourselves in the midst of the most significant health care crisis in generations, with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Globally and in the United States, pharmacists are being called on to provide not just medications, but importantly to be a source of critical information and support for the public.

First and foremost, we have a duty to serve our patients, but we also have an unprecedented opportunity to take our profession to another level and demonstrate the unique value of the pharmacist. Often, our patients and professional colleagues may take what we do without much notice, but these times now create a new lens.

We live in a very regulated world in pharmacy and bureaucracies are looking to reduce the red tape so we can do even more. Boards of pharmacy and regulators have recognized what we can do and have enabled a new paradigm for our practice. Our leadership in pharmacy has pressed the government to give us even room to operate. Recently, the leadership of the American Pharmacists Association sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging him to open up opportunities for pharmacists during the COVID-19 crisis.

During times of crisis, the administration has the power to modify rules and regulations that could enable pharmacists to provide even more care, allowing our education and training to be offered to patients and caregivers. Once barriers are removed, many of these services can potentially be reimbursed.

Pharmacists provide patient care in all practice settings, including community pharmacies, specialty pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, community health centers, physician offices, ambulatory clinics, managed care organizations, hospice settings, and the uniformed services.

Most recently, announcements have been made by the administration permitting a multidisciplinary approach to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes community physicians, national drug store chains, and diagnostic labs. In several states, pharmacists currently have the training and authority to conduct influenza and strep testing. Additionally, more than 360,000 pharmacists have been trained to administer vaccines since pharmacists, through certification, were permitted to do so.

It has been suggested that pharmacists can get even more involved by being allowed to administer the COVID-19 rapid diagnostic test once it is developed and distributed. There will be a huge demand for COVID-19 vaccinations; therefore, adding trained and certified pharmacists to the list of approved providers is a natural fit and pharmacists should be compensated for doing so.

Boards of pharmacy are permitting pharmacist discretion in providing patient access to refills using professional judgement on critical medications. Additionally, many states are encouraging mail and home delivery for those patients who have been instructed to not be out in public.

Now is the time for pharmacists to stand even taller and provide more help to their communities. Let us use this time to not only serve our patients, but also to be a test case to demonstrate our full capabilities.

Pharmacists must unite to assure we are the best we can be. Who knows, it might be through this time of adversity that we truly invest in amplifying our potential in the future of health care.

About the Author

Dan Steiber, RPh, operates Genesis Pharma Consultants, a consulting practice responsible for commercial operations and trade-supply chain strategy development. Steiber has served in several senior positions in pharmacy, distribution, and industry over the course of his 40- year career. Steiber is a licensed pharmacist in Texas, Washington, California, and Pennsylvania. He is affiliated with several professional associations and publications and a frequent speaker on behalf of many professional organizations. Steiber graduated from Washington State University College of Pharmacy. He has participated in a variety of postgraduate programs in law and business development/marketing at Harvard University and Northwestern University.