Part 2: Pharmacist, Technician Safety and Mental Health Amid COVID-19

Expert Interview

In part 2 of our interview, Mike Johnston, founder and chief executive officer of the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), discussed the results of their recent survey, which found that many pharmacists and pharmacy technicians feel unsafe from COVID-19 at their workplaces.

In part 2 of our interview, Mike Johnston, founder and chief executive officer of the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), discussed the results of their recent survey, which found that many pharmacists and pharmacy technicians feel unsafe from COVID-19 at their workplaces.

Drug Topics®: Hi my name is Gabrielle Ientile with Drug Topics® and today we're speaking with Mike Johnston, certified pharmacy technician and founder and CEO of the National Pharmacy Technician Association. We're talking about the effects of COVID-19 on pharmacists, particularly on the safety and defenses against the virus. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Johnston: Thanks for having me.

Drug Topics®: Your report also showed that most types of pharmacies, notwithstanding the retail chain massive grocery, have minimized direct contact with patients. But a majority of these pharmacies also have reported that the pharmacy hasn't limited the number of employees interacting with each other. So how can pharmacy simultaneously limit the contact while also addressing this huge influx in need and influx and patients as well?

Johnston: FIP’s recommendation with this was that you limit the number of staff that are interacting with the patients and that you keep those staff members kind of stationed there. So, instead of having technicians and pharmacists switching out at the cash register throughout their shifts, it really should be one designated employee per shift that's handling those interactions. Then the second recommendation that was made is to as much as possible to split up your staff into teams or shifts that work together for their work week and that you keep them separated and actually, even if possible, shut the pharmacy down for a brief period between shifts, so that way there's no cross exposure between them. That also would be an opportune time to do some cleaning and disinfecting in the pharmacies.

Drug Topics®: And what can I expect to see if the same sort of trends continue? I know as you said, some things have improved, but if we don't see significant improvement, what can we expect?

Johnston: I think we are looking at significant exposure that's not necessary. To be blunt, that that leads to potential exposure of liability with employers. I think there's going to be significant ramifications afterwards of pharmacists and technicians that assess the situation and have a different look at their employer and how much they're truly valued, and whether or not they want to continue a employment relationship with that organization. I think there's some really serious implications here. Again there's a lot of employers that are doing the right thing that have really stepped up for their pharmacists and their technicians, that have that have put their well-being ahead of profits and other business matters, and I think they're going to come out of the winners in the end of all this

Drug Topics®: To go along on a more positive note, what was some of the more promising data that the NPTA found in its survey?

Johnston: So overall, we were very impressed and felt that it was promising to see what was happening at the independent retail pharmacies and health system pharmacies. I think the other positive outcome is looking at what's happened over the last two weeks and seeing that there have been significant improvements and changes that have come. Certainly we would have liked to see these implementations made earlier, but across the board, including the chain retail pharmacies, they do appear to have implemented a lot of the recommendations, they are involving PPE and have installed plexiglass and most locations now, but there's still some chain pharmacies that are not doing this. Now they're going against CDC recommendations and guidelines too. But overall, I think the majority of organizations have been made aware of the data and have taken a look at that and made the improvements that they can. If the survey data and exposure of this has made a positive outcome in any way, then then we feel like we've we've accomplished something important with this.

Drug Topics®: And then there was also a report from the NCPA, the National Community Pharmacists Association, that nearly 990 percent of community pharmacists have experienced some sort of drug shortage since the outbreak began. Have pharmacies in general been seeing shortages, MPP and other protective equipment as well or should they expect to experience a supply shortages?

Johnston: Yes, so that has been a significant issue with the PPE just being overall shortage of it and needing to reserve as much of that as possible for the highest risk situations going on in healthcare right now. A lot of employers may point to that and say, well, we couldn't do it because there was a shortage, there wasn't capacity. And, and in those situations, I push back though and say, okay, but if that was truly the case, why were you prohibiting your employees from bringing their own supply? Everything doesn't line up there. There certainly is still a shortage going on, and so you've got situations where they may have to be using cloth masks and things of that nature. But I don't think that we're going see a huge influx of supply anytime soon. Tt is going to be an issue that needs to be watched.

Drug Topics®: And then finally, in the NPTA press release, you called on all state boards of pharmacy and other regulatory agencies to immediately require pharmacies to take the necessary actions to protect their pharmacists. Ideally, what specific actions does and NPTA Want to see? And From whom?

Johnston: I think the easiest way to do it is simply in following and implementing the guidelines established by FIP on the recommendations to safeguard the pharmacy workforce. We've already got documentation, and internationally agreed upon guidelines and recommendations, so I think that's probably the easiest step in getting that put out there.

Drug Topics®: Dr. Johnson, thank you so much for taking the time to discuss a super important topic. I really appreciate your time and stay well.

Johnston: All right, you too. Thank you.


Editor’s note: This interview transcription has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

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