How Good Neighbor Pharmacies Are Tackling the COVID-19 Pandemic
Jennifer Zilka, group vice president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy field programs and services, discusses the role community pharmacies can play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jill Murphy: Hi, this is Jill Murphy from Pharmacy Times, and before we get started today one of our top stories from is Pharmacy Times is about a study that outlined the potential harms associated with treating patients with COVID-19 with drugs like hydroxychloroquine, including hypoglycemia, metabolic variability, and overdose. This summary of potential adverse effects
warns patients with COVID-19 to approach these treatments with caution. Today, I'm speaking with Jenni Zilka, group vice president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy field programs and services, about the pharmacy program and how they're responding to COVID-19. How are you doing?
Jennifer Zilka: Good, thank you. Thanks for having me. How are you?
Jill Murphy: I'm great, thank you so much for joining us. So, my first question is can you give us an overview of what exactly the Good Neighbor Pharmacy program is?
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, so Good Neighbor Pharmacy is a family of thousands of independently owned pharmacies throughout the country, and they're really tailored to kind of improving the health of their unique communities. So, think of everywhere from rural America all the way to urban, you know, New York City-type independent businesses. The overarching mission of Good Neighbor Pharmacy is really to help those community pharmacies simplify their business, amplify their unique brand, and then protect their independence. So, we do that at AmerisourceBergen through a number of programs and services and solutions. We do everything from help them with their advertising and marketing, we'll help them merchandise their shelves to make sure they have the right mix of products that's customized for that unique community, and even some business consulting. So, when you think of these independent small businesses, they don't often have a large, robust back office helping them with all of the different dynamics that are involved in running a business, so we kind of think of ourselves as providing some of that back office support and helping to focus on their business so they can focus on their patients.
Jill Murphy: That's great, and that actually leads me our next question. There seems to be an emphasis on individuality with these pharmacies. Is that also extended to the response to COVID-19?
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, never has it been more apparent. So, the beautiful thing that’s the positive of not having the back office is that they're very agile. They don't have any red tape or corporate requirements, they can really adjust on the fly, to both—I think in it in the COVID situation—to
support their staff as well as their communities. So we've seen them work really hard to operate almost as a closed-door pharmacy. Many have opted—to protect both their staff and their communities—to operate utilizing their curbside, so running prescriptions out to the curb and
interacting with patients through the car window, their drive through, and through delivery services. So 76% of our pharmacies already offer delivery, and now they're expanding on those services. They may be delivering a little bit further, sometimes checking in with elderly patients. Our Good Neighbor Pharmacy owners, their business is typically about 42% Part D, so a very vulnerable population especially right now in terms of COVID, so they're taking the time when they deliver the orders to check in to see how those patients are faring and just really utilizing that personal touch as much as they can. And then one other way that they're utilizing it is really through social channels. So Facebook, engaging differently with their patients. And I, personally, am more connected to my device than ever because I'm kind of hungry for that interaction and information. And that local pharmacist is such a trusted resource in the community, so they're sharing, you know, fact-based information around the disease but also support for their communities. And we've seen a 73% increase in marketing asset downloads, so they're downloading more content just letting people know they have curbside, letting people know that they can stop in and still to talk with them. So I would say they've adjusted very beautifully and are interacting differently, but still providing that same high level of personalized care that they're so known for, and it's just something that's so important to them to continue to support both the needs of their community and their patients and their staff. So they've really evolved very quickly and have done a wonderful job with them.
Jill Murphy: That's some really great solutions that you just said, and are there any other
unique solutions to this response that you've seen from the pharmacies? I know you said the curbside pickup was one.
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, so the curbside pickup is really unique. You know, I as a consumer have
gotten somewhat accustomed to curbside pickup with my local restaurants and things like that throughout this process, so it may be something that has legs beyond COVID. But yeah, they've done a phenomenal job with curbside. And then some other, just, really, I think I have the ability of a job where I get to talk to independent pharmacy owners all day, every day, and some of the
things that they're doing are so heartwarming, I think, uplifting during this time. But some of them are offering free meals to their community, so you can walk up to a tent and get a simple lunch from 1 to 3, and providing that to their community. They're compounding hand sanitizer and they're delivering that to nursing homes, to police departments, fire departments, EMTs. So [that’s] just a really special way in their community that they're really engaging with their communities and helping out. One pharmacy—I love this—she went out on Facebook and Instagram and encouraged her followers to make cards. So, a lot of kids are home from school, so they're making these cards and she has generated over 500 cards, so she's sending the cards to health care workers on the front lines, to some of their elderly patients that they service. So, food
drives, COVID-19 care packages that they're dropping off for elderly patients. There's just a lot of really amazing things. A kind of community spirit is happening there and they're doing that, so far above and beyond what you would traditionally think of going to a pharmacy and getting your prescription. So, it just speaks to, I think, the role that they play in their communities and how important they are to the community that they serve. So, those are some of the things I've seen and it's really fun to continue seeing stories pour in, to get to see them.
Jill Murphy: Absolutely. On the organizational level, have you taken any actions that way? Like on your level of pharmacy?
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, that's a great question. So, that increase in download of marketing assets—we created 19 new COVID-specific marketing assets. So, it could be that they have a sign that says “curbside delivery,” right, or just a reminder to call ahead for refills versus blocking or driving up with all their pill bottles and trying to solve that at the drive-thru. So, we've put together a lot of new marketing content for them to use on their Facebook and in other digital channels, as well as signage outside. We've also been very active in reaching out and making sure that our independent pharmacies have the information around the Cares Act and some of the loan products that are available through the SBA. They're so busy filling prescriptions right now, and not necessarily filling prescriptions but more adjusting their workflow, so they've really needed kind of someone to help keep an eye on what's happening with the industry and some of those opportunities that are available to them. And then with testing coming forward we're seeing an opportunity potentially in our pharmacies to be able to administer some of the tests, so working with them around CLIA waivers and ensuring that they're prepared for when the tests are readily available. And then I think, finally—and this ties into the last question—but we put together a Fearless Pharmacy page. So it's a hashtag that's starting to kind of trend, which I think is really good and speaks to the fact that we all kind of need those heartwarming stories. But it's out on our Good Neighbor Pharmacy page at WeAreGMP.com, and it really just, some of those stories I shared about the unique things that they're doing, it really highlights them, and I think it's just such a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on the amazing work that our community pharmacies are doing. So we cannot post as quickly as the stories are coming in, so it's really, really a cool thing to be a part of and I hope
people will look at it and even just look around in their communities and engage with their local pharmacy because there's so much good.
Jill Murphy: I completely agree with you, and I actually wanted to take a route onto this question. How have your pharmacists and staff been working to maintain everyday needs of those patients that have chronic and ongoing health concerns, like other than just COVID patients?
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, so, you know, 42% of their patients being Part D, they typically have multiple prescriptions, and they need to take them chronically. I mean, [there are] concerns about interactions and things like that, so adherence is always a concern, COVID or no COVID, right? But I think they're really focusing on, you know,outbound calls, so using their pharmacy systems or their staff to call these patients, make sure they're taking their prescriptions, you know, asking
about questions, things like that. And then again, I talked on this a little earlier, but taking advantage of that delivery time instead of just dropping a package, stopping, knocking on the door, and keeping their distance of course, but talking to patients about how they're feeling, what's happening. So, I think it's there you're seeing more outreach, but it's always a concern. And then to make sure those patients are adherent because we don't want to fall off and making sure they have access to the product and things like that. And then I've seen these really neat COVID care packages that they're sending out, as well, so it has some hand sanitizer, emergency things, just some neat little things. I think it's probably more peace of mind packages, but it certainly shows there that, you know, that they care and that they're invested in their patients. So those are some ways. But really using their technology, too, for the outreach and staying connected. And then one other thing I've seen is Facebook live videos, so I think, you know, this is uncomfortable having to be on a camera for anyone, but for our pharmacy owners it's very new for them, too. So, some of them are doing some additional Facebook live videos educating on disease states beyond COVID, right. What this is, why it's so important that you continue to take your blood pressure medication, right, and how it ties to COVID. So utilizing that technology, as well, has been a positive for our independents.
Jill Murphy: And I know you kind of touched on testing at pharmacies, I wanted to ask do you know any of the logistics to having testing at Good Neighbor Pharmacies and how it's going?
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, so, while you know back in March we heard that the FDA issued a policy to allow certain serological tests to be performed by pharmacies in the community. This is a
wonderful and exciting opportunity. Right now, our pharmacy owners are sifting through all of the available tests and how, when, what requirements that the FDA has set forth that they've met or haven't met. So, for right now I think there's a period of due diligence underway before the tests are offered at the pharmacy level, because I think it's, you know, our pharmacies want to make sure that the tests are indeed sanctioned by the FDA, even with the EUA in place. So, a lot of due diligence happening now. There’s a lot of players, a lot of different manufacturers of the tests on the market, but we're very hopeful that we'll get that guidance and that our pharmacy owners will be able to play a really important role in getting our communities and our economy back on track by performing some of the serological testing available.
Jill Murphy: And my last question is actually more about mental health. So, a lot of people are
saying with this pandemic their mental health is being affected as well. How are pharmacists and other staff members maintaining their own mental and physical health right now during this?
Jennifer Zilka: That's such a good question and I would like to say they're doing it splendidly, but it's really, I think, hard for our pharmacy owners. Both them and their staff are so connected to the place that they live in, their community, and their patients, and they truly are clinicians at heart, and they get joy in helping others. That's what they do, they care for others. So, finding that time to care for themselves is really hard for them right now. I'm hearing from our pharmacy owners just [finding] joy in the simplest of things, right. So, a family dinner because they've been working so many hours at the pharmacy, taking the dog for a walk, waving at grandchildren or grandparents through windows and getting some of that time with their family is really, I think,
helping to kind of feed their soul mentally. And then there's some other really nice stories, too, where I've heard of communities putting together meal trains for the pharmacy, I mean delivering meals to the pharmacy so the pharmacy owner or pharmacist or staff can go home and spend that time with their family and step away from the pharmacy a little bit. So, a lot of different ways, but inherently these pharmacy owners when you ask them, kind of, why they do
what they do, they almost have a hard time answering it because it's just who they are. So, providing that care, while it's been challenging and probably, you know, for many some of the most challenging times of their career, they definitely get that reward mentally by caring further because that's just who they are. They're the most empathetic people I've met, so I think they're doing their best and trying to find those moments for themselves. And then, you know, of course, keeping their community and patients and then their staff is always on their mind as well, so I would like to say they're doing a fantastic job but they're doing the best they can, I think, given the situation, to try to get that time and spend some time with their families, as well.
Jill Murphy: It's not going unnoticed, and I also thank all of you guys for everything you're doing right now.
Jennifer Zilka: Well, yeah, I feel helpless doing it from a distance, but we certainly want to do
whatever we can to support our pharmacies.
Jill Murphy: Thank you so much Jenni for joining us today.
Jennifer Zilka: Yeah, thank you so much for having me it was nice - nice to be here and nice to talk via zoom.
Jill Murphy: And now let's hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.