The Role of Pharmacy in the COVID-19 Outbreak

Pharmacy, Regulatory News

April 9th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting every healthcare stakeholder. Learn about the role of pharmacy in the COVID-19 outbreak in supporting patients.

role of pharmacy in covid-19

The healthcare ecosystem is on the frontlines of fighting coronavirus. Each stakeholder plays an essential role in responding to the virus. That includes pharmacists. The role of pharmacy in the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving and changing, providing critical ways to help mitigate the spread, deliver medications, and assisting with testing.

HHS Authorizes Pharmacists for COVID-19 Testing

On April 8, HHS issued a statement that authorizes licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests. With this one decision, pharmacists can now provide easier access to testing. By doing so, pharmacists are now able to speed up diagnosis. This can lead to earlier treatment and reduce the chance that the person will infect others. 

Pharmacists have long acted as counsel to patients. They’ve been a key player in immunizations as well. This new ability to test for COVID-19 allows them to make a difference in their patients’ health.

Shortages Are Becoming More Common

drug shortages covid-19

Drug shortages have been an emerging fear for patients and the healthcare community. These concerns include the increased demand for medications that can treat COVID-19 as well as the medication taken for chronic conditions. 

Some reports have actually found these two points converging. Those with autoimmune diseases, like lupus, are now facing shortages. Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription that helps those with lupus fight off flares. It’s now been making headlines because it may be a possible treatment for coronavirus. Patients are scared they’ll be cut off because of new demand.

Supply, Demand, and 90-Day Fills

Further, pharmacists are also facing new requests for those with chronic diseases, asking for 90-day supplies due to the concern with needing to shelter in place. The problem many may be facing is that not all insurance providers allow 90-day fills for medications.

It’s a perfect storm of concerns with access, demand, and supply. Finding new suppliers is challenging and often comes with a heftier price tag. As the role of pharmacy in the COVID-19 pandemic grows, each pharmacy must contend with ensuring that their patients have the medications they need. 

What Pharmacists Need to Address Operational Challenges and Care Continuity

Pharmacy organizations issued a joint policy recommendation to enable pharmacists to do more. To address the issue of shortages in medication and workforce, these groups have requested a relaxation of operational barriers. 

In short, they want to introduce flexible staffing that allows pharmacists and techs to work across state lines, open satellite locations in pharmacy deserts, and waive limitations on who can staff the pharmacy. Additionally, they have called for the ability to provide early refills and more 90-day supplies. 

When looking at the shortage of medication issues, pharmacists would like to be able to allow therapeutic interchange and substitution. Further, they want expiration dates extended and more transparency from the FDA about supply chain shortages.

With these changes, pharmacists can be better prepared to keep serving their communities.

Keeping Patients Informed

As a direct point of access for many patients, pharmacists have become providers of information as well. Many pharmacies are using different channels to communicate with patients. That includes signage at stores that offer advice from the medical community or sending communications to patients to update them on how their response to the virus. Patients need to hear from pharmacists now. This reassurance could minimize their worries.

Sharing Data: Essential in Tracking the Virus

pharmacy covid-19

The ability to share pharmacy data without different entities could offer the healthcare community more insight. The HHS announcement did not provide any details on how pharmacies will share test results. While they are likely to submit them to government entities like HHS and the CDC, other studies may benefit from them as well. 

Currently, John’s Hopkins has a coronavirus tracker, which provides information by state. There is also an IHME Model, which projects hospital resource use. Researchers and experts at multiple pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are scrambling to create a vaccine, and pharmacy data could help. 

The pharmacy data of prescriptions for those with COVID-19 could deliver key information to learning what’s working and what isn’t. Data sharing is a critical need right now, as we all come to understand the virus better. 

Pharmacy on the Frontlines

As with any healthcare emergency, each segment of the industry has a role to play. Pharmacists just like physicians, nurses, and other clinicians, are on the frontlines of COVID-19. As a partner to the healthcare community, we appreciate all you do. We’re here to support you along the way. 

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