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Ask a Pharmacist: The Role of Pharmacists During COVID-19

Ronald Richmond, R.Ph., MPH, Senior Vice President of Provider Relations, Paramount Rx

How are pharmacists implementing drive-thru COVID-19 testing? What are the challenges and opportunities with this type of testing?

The pharmacy industry is working rapidly to make more testing available to the public. While testing may be available at both chain and independent pharmacies, a majority of the drive-thru COVID-19 tests are being implemented by major chain pharmacies using appointment-based services. These drive-thru tests are administered primarily through supervised self-swabbing, which minimizes physical contact and provides a greater sense of safety. Some pharmacies are even distributing at-home self-swab test kits, reducing in-person contact to virtually zero. State regulations regarding which services pharmacists can perform under their scope of practice has been a hurdle. However, the states have been working to address these challenges. This may include authorizing pharmacists to provide testing under existing practice laws or waiving the requirement for collaborative practice arrangements to provide testing. Overall, the addition of pharmacy COVID-19 testing services will provide greater access to testing, which can help to identify positive cases more quickly and get patients to self-quarantine and any treatment they may need faster.

In your opinion, what is the most important role of pharmacists right now?

There are three critical components I believe should be a top priority at this time:

  1. Improving medication therapy outcomes by driving medication adherence
  2. Providing a local, accessible destination for preventive care services, such as immunizations
  3. Providing patient education on medications and health-related matters

How has COVID-19 changed the dynamics between pharmacists and patients?

The increased use of remote prescription services, such a delivery and mail-in orders, has eliminated face-to-face contact normally seen in pharmacist-patient interactions at the counter. This is a critical component of pharmacist-patient relationships, as it enhances the sense of community and trust. As pharmacies deal with short supplies or unavailable stock of essential items, pharmacists are adapting to provide patients with alternative products and resources. For example, if a pharmacy is out of alcohol swabs or Acetaminophen, the pharmacist can be consulted to suggest a safe alternative product.

Do you believe pharmacists will play a larger role in patient care moving forward?

In several states, pharmacists are already playing a larger role in delivering patient care. These services may include prescribing oral contraceptives, conducting finger-stick blood tests for blood glucose or throat swab tests for strep, and providing diabetes education, to name a few. The availability of these types of expanded services will vary depending on the state you live in, and the type of service. States must often expand their pharmacists’ scope of practice under the law to allow them to perform these services.  Services that integrate well with normal pharmacy workflow, such as walk-up immunizations, can usually be offered at all pharmacies. In contrast, services that require more time or a private room, like diabetes education, may only be available on an appointment basis at select pharmacies.

How do you believe COVID-19 will impact the pharmacy industry in the long-term?

While it may likely impact industry procurement and preparedness practices, I’m not sure that COVID-19 will significantly impact pharmacy practice. Many pharmacists already provide testing services, so using local pharmacists to administer COVID-19 testing is not necessarily a new concept. Pharmacy drive thru testing is a new concept and may be impactful on normal workflow during pandemics, but it should not present a practice challenge for pharmacists, especially when acting in a supervisory role for self-swab tests. In addition, when the COVID-19 vaccine is available, most pharmacies will already have the infrastructure in place to administer the immunizations. During the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, pharmacists learned how support the distribution and tracking of an allocated government-procured vaccine, build reporting mechanisms to account for administered doses and work with payers to secure reimbursement for the administration of the vaccine. I believe that this H1N1 experience, coupled with the expansion of provider seasonal and non-seasonal immunization services in subsequent years, has left pharmacists well prepared to assist in the mitigation of this pandemic when a vaccine becomes available. 


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