Federal Mandates for COVID-19 Mean Enhanced Inventory, Scheduling: What Pharmacists Need to Know
Pharmacists will need to make sure they have the necessary personal protective equipment in place to meet increased clinic activity and while keeping an eye on levels of flu vaccines and tests.
President Biden’s announcement of the most comprehensive, mandated COVID-19 vaccine and testing program to date has the health care community taking notice and starting to plan. For pharmacists, these directives offer both challenges and opportunities for their practices.
The challenges lie in offering added COVID-19 services—should the FDA eventually approve Pfizer and Moderna booster shots for the general population—as well as third shots for immunocompromised during the traditionally busy flu season. However, the added activity also offers opportunities for pharmacists to engage with their communities for better health as well as realize additional revenue from these services.
The pathway to success lies in having robust inventory, scheduling, reporting, and community communications systems in place.
Inventory planning may bring back memories of spring 2021, when the different vaccines first became available and the need for testing waned in many places. This time, the inventory needs are more complex.
Pharmacists will need to know the exact amounts of Pfizer and Moderna booster dosages if they are eventually approved, as well as track third shots for those eligible. They will also need to monitor the stock of COVID-19 tests for the expected demand from consumers and to meet Biden’s requirements for employers.
Pharmacists will also need to make sure they have the necessary personal protective equipment in place to meet increased clinic activity and should do this while keeping an eye on levels of flu vaccines and tests, which will also be in demand. The best bet is to determine what you have, put in measures to get the supplies that you need, and be vigilant in monitoring.
In a nutshell, scheduling will be more difficult because different people will need boosters or third shots of different medications at different times. You will also need to account for on-demand and planned COVID-19 tests. For most pharmacists, the solution will come from extending your current scheduling system to include booster/testing information and instructions on how to make appointments.
Ideally, the system will allow you to send electronic results/receipts directly to the patient for their records, having scheduling and results in one system. Scheduling could also bring opportunity to provide group services given the broadening of vaccine and test requirements.
Pharmacists can and should look to partner with schools and employers with more than 100 people to offer services in a convenient setting.
Similar to scheduling, reporting will have added complexities because of the different doses and the need to report greater numbers of test results. Pharmacists should be used to more intensive reporting, given the guidelines issued on June 4 by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for COVID-19 testing. The HHS asked for pharmacists to capture complete demographic information and report test results daily.
Ideally, pharmacists will be able to extend their current reporting capabilities to absorb the increased activity and additional tracking. Pharmacists can include more intensive questionnaires to help with patient monitoring and reporting.
In addition, pharmacists may be able to use their reporting systems to help employers, who will be required to submit test results to the federal government. Smaller employers, especially, may not have adequate reporting systems in place and would benefit from a pharmacist partner.
According to a Gallup poll, people in the United State rank pharmacists among the most honest and ethical professionals. The general public, in addition to having a high level of trust and comfort with pharmacists, also have more contact with pharmacists than with other health care professionals.
Pharmacists should expect and prepare for an influx of patient queries regarding third shots, including which dose they should get and when, whether there are efficacy differences, and what are any possible adverse effects. These patients will also want to know the best way to show employers and others that they are in compliance with the vaccine doses and/or show the results of COVID-19 tests.
Being prepared for these questions with materials that provide answers is one way to meet the demand. Having patient data included in their scheduling communications is another.
For example, the messaging to the patient could inform them that they are eligible for a third shot at this time, and the plan is to give the same booster as the first 2 shots for added efficacy.
Having a quick “what you should know” leaflet—either electronic or printed—to review prior to the service will also help.
Meeting the increased activity with the confluence of flu season and the ongoing pandemic will require planning, patience, and a commitment to productivity. The good news is that pharmacists are trained for situations such as these and have the ability to adapt to complexity.
COVID-19 requires pharmacists to practice at the top of their license, which the community has proven they are enthusiastically able to do.
About the Author
Paige Clark, RPh, is the VP of Pharmacy Programs and Policy at Prescryptive, overseeing the company’s policy work to drive awareness, utilization, and scope of trusted independent pharmacists nationally. Prior to Prescryptive, Paige spent 11 years at Oregon State University's College of Pharmacy, driving policy initiatives for the state’s licensed pharmacists, including the prescribing of birth control and tobacco cessation services. Paige also worked as the Staff Pharmacist Consultant for the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, managing rule writing, legislative endeavors, and regional and national policy work. She is a frequent speaker and presenter at national industry conferences and a multi-award winner, including several Pharmacist of the Year recognitions.