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An inside look at the process from prescription to dispensing.
Since Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts issued a stay-at-home advisory in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Massachusetts, has dispensed more than 5000 medications to patients and employees using its curbside prescription service.
The top 3 medications filled are those for blood pressure, cholesterol, and acid reflux, said Jackie Breeds, PharmD, RPh, pharmacy supervisor at the health system.
UMass Memorial offers the service at 2 separate locations, both in downtown Worcester. Patients and employees start the pickup process by entering an order in the patient portal or calling the pharmacy team, said Breeds. In either case, they are prompted to call the pharmacy team to schedule a pickup and discuss paying co-pays by credit card or cash.
A pharmacy order takes approximately 2 hours to fill, although the turnaround time can depend on the current volume of prescription requests; Mondays are the busiest days, Breeds said. Patients park in 1 of 2 designated parking spots at each location, and a sign instructs them to call the pharmacy. The pharmacy staffer captures information about the make, model, and color of the patient’s or employees’ car, which makes identifying them easier. The staffer also verifies their birthdate to ensure the individual is getting the correct medication. The staffer typically brings out the medications within 3 to 5 minutes.
“[Staffers] stay far back from the car window,” said Breeds. “They don’t want to sneak up on people. They wait until [the person] unrolls their window.” Staffers are required to wear masks, she added, and they use hand sanitizer upon reentering the building.
When a medication order is generated, a pharmacy staffer bills insurance and determines the patient co-pay. If they come across any formulary issues, they call the patient’s doctor to make changes or ask questions.
Some of UMass Memorial’s pharmacy techs have been furloughed. The staffers bringing medications to patients’ cars are typically recent nursing school graduates and medical assistants from clinics with reduced patient volume, said Neil Gilchrist, PharmD, BCPS, DPLA, senior director of pharmacy services. Nonpharmacy tech employees can serve in these roles during the state of emergency declared by Governor Baker on March 10. For opioid-based medications, the prescribing physician sends the order to UMass Memorial electronically, said a health-system spokesperson. The pharmacy staffer tells the patient that they’ll need to show photo identification at pickup. During pickup, the staffer verifies the patient’s birth date and photo to ensure the correct individual receives the medication.
Because of the positive response from patients and employees, many of whom have been working remotely during the pandemic, UMass Memorial is considering continuing the program when the health system returns to steady-state operations.