The COVID-19 outbreak has affected every part of our health care system. Pharmacies, just as expected, have showed up in meaningful ways to support their communities. We’re seeing independent community pharmacies compound hand sanitizer and donate the product to medical facilities, local emergency medical services, fire and police departments. Many pharmacies are operating closed-door stores and delivering prescriptions right to their patients’ homes. Some are making care packages and donating them to the elderly and the immunocompromised. We are so thankful for all the pharmacists out there who are working on the frontlines right now.
While the effects of COVID-19 are evolving daily, there are several things that pharmacists–and particularly independent community pharmacy owners–can do to continue to support patients and provide valuable, fact-based resources about the virus to the community during this complex time. One way to do this is through simple and effective communication.
Business owners should let patients know of any changes to business hours, expanded delivery services, and if they have a 24-hour emergency hotline. Posting this information to the pharmacy website, social channels, mobile app, e-newsletters, and voicemail greetings is essential. With social distancing requirements in effect across the country, pharmacists should share how patients can pick-up prescriptions a little differently, such as through the drive-thru, curbside pick-up, or mail services. If owners are allowing patients through the store, pharmacy staff should proactively share the precautions they are taking to keep patients safe, such as cleaning more frequently and sanitizing high-traffic areas.
For the safety of the community and staff, many independent community pharmacies are operating as closed-door stores. At the same time, many people still have a need for basic household supplies and OTC products, such as vitamins, personal care items and first aid. If they have ample stock, pharmacies should advertise what OTC products they have available and let customers know that they can be delivered to patients’ homes or are available for curb-side pickup. If pharmacies can make their own hand sanitizer, this is a huge resource to the community, and they should advertise their availability of these products as well.
Leveraging patient engagement tools in the pharmacy can help streamline much of these communications. In any time, social media is an essential tool in supporting communications with patients. In today’s environment, social media can connect pharmacies with a large portion of the community without requiring them to come into the pharmacy. In fact, internet activity was up 18% from January to March in the United States, according to Vox. Having “office hours” through Facebook Live or taking questions through Instagram are great ways to support the community. Pharmacists are looked to as a source of reputable information, therefore owners should refer to verified sources like the CDC, World Health Organization, Health and Human Services, and the like on social media.
Call campaigns are another proactive measure that pharmacy owners can take to communicate with patients during this time. Through these outbound calls, pharmacists can remind patients to remain adherent and give them steps to stay healthy. At Good Neighbor Pharmacy, we have a great partnership with PrescribeWellness, where pharmacists can quickly record a message in their voice and their platform distributes the message to the appropriate patient base. Since the pandemic began, Good Neighbor Pharmacies have scheduled nearly 300 COVID-related voice and text campaigns to patients. Lastly, pharmacists should look to their mobile app as another communications vehicle, if they have one. Pharmacists should encourage patients to request refills through the store’s mobile application, which can help alleviate call volume.
Approximately 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy and according to Medicaid claims data released by Community Care of North Carolina, high-risk patients already see their pharmacist 35 times per year. When you compare that to the 2 times a year that high-risk patients see their physicians, it’s significant. Pharmacists continue to be named among the nation’s most trusted professions, according to Gallup. The point is that pharmacists and their staff provide exceptional care to patients every single day. While many people are working from home these days, pharmacies continue to operate as essential businesses to ensure patients can get the medications they need. Pharmacists are in a unique position to assist their communities during this COVID-19 epidemic, and they’re also able to support the health care community at large.
Important pharmacy services should be authorized and expanded to help deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, which would help increase provider capacity as health care resources are further stressed. This includes granting pharmacists’ provider status and giving them the ability to test and treat. This is an unprecedented time, it’s time to allow pharmacists to practice at the top of their license.