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May 11 2020

Pharmacy - and Patient - Safety During the COVID-19 Crisis

For Dilworth Drug & Wellness Center pharmacy owner Josh Rimany, one of the most important steps his North Carolina pharmacy took to ensure patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, was to encrypt as many credit cards as possible, as a way to speed up transactions and minimize person-to-person contact. "We wanted to avoid having to ask for the credit card, and as this goes along further and further, we can do our transactions faster," he explained.

Rimany, who was speaking as part of a late-April "pharmacist online townhall," sponsored by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), said this important capability was offered through the pharmacy's software system, and has been very beneficial in protecting both patients and staff.

The townhall, which featured a dozen community pharmacists from across the nation, was intended as a way to share best practices and experiences, as pharmacies continue to serve patients and keep their doors open during the global health crisis.

The session made clear most pharmacies have adopted in-store features including mandatory mask wearing, signage reminding patients to not enter the store if they feel ill, designated one-way aisles plexiglass shields and table barriers at point-of-sale, curbside pickup, and where possible, drive-thru service.In addition, NCPA reports more than 75 percent of independent pharmacies offer a home delivery service.

But many pharmacies are using their skills and resources to go beyond and offer increasingly useful - and creative - services. The following is an overview of some of the more well-received initiatives that are helping pharmacists prioritize patient and staff safety and wellbeing during this challenging time.

  • Patient Education. Many pharmacies have recognized the importance of educating patients about the coronavirus, and the progress being made within the global health community to develop therapeutics and a vaccine. Pharmacist Jeff Scott of Cheek and and Scott Pharmacy in Florida said his pharmacy has been posting brief tutorials on its Facebook page as a way to keep patients informed. A recent tutorial on antibody testing, he noted, generated 12,000 views. Similarly, Kathy Camp of Medicap Pharmacy in Owasso, Oklahoma said she also used Facebook to promote a series of informative videos called "Viral Thriving Strategy." "It's just people wanting information about how to think about this attack, how to approach it, and how to actually thrive during it," she explained. Recent postings have provided testing and contact tracing updates, along with reminders about the need for emotional and mental wellbeing.
  • Mobile Apps. Many pharmacists had already invested in app technology before the pandemic took hold. Apps can allow patients 24/7 refill capability, enable online purchases, provide store hours and contact information, and serve as a source for health and wellness news. PrimeRx™ users, for example, can allow their patients easy pharmacy access from the convenience, flexibility and safety of the FillMyRefills™ app.To encourage use of these important technology tools, at least a few pharmacies are having a little fun with their patients. At one point the Creek and Scott Pharmacy ran a "Download our app and get a free mask/hand sanitizer" promotion as a way to encourage patients to avoid in-person transactions.
  • Remote Signatures/Contactless Co-pays. Although many state pharmacy boards relaxed signature requirements for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, pharmacists have been quick to embrace the use of technology-enabled signature and co-pay collections. This includes the ability of the patients to pre-sign for pending deliveries or pickups via a secure link. More recently, Micro Merchant Systems introduced its PrimeRxPAY™ feature, which enables contactless co-pay collections via a secure credit card transmission.
  • Increased Focus on Delivery Services. Although most pharmacies offered home delivery services pre-pandemic, many now see this service as an important way to stay in touch with patients and ensure their wellbeing. "We have the same delivery guys, and our patients get to know them," noted Jack Dunn of Georgia's Jasper Drug Store, emphasizing the personal nature of his store's service. "Some of these people don't have anyone to talk to, and when the delivery people go and talk to them for five or ten minutes, it can really put a smile on their face." Dunn also noted his employees have gone the extra mile, in some instances bringing groceries to elderly patients, and checking in on senior citizens every few days.

As medical researchers continue their work to develop effective treatments for the virus, the nation's pharmacies will continue to provide critical patient services.

And they will be rewarded for their efforts.  As one pharmacist noted in the NCPA townhall, patients appreciate the extra steps his pharmacy has taken to promote social distancing and patient safety.  This has resulted in a spike in business.  "We've had a lot of prescriptions come in because people know we are trying to keep our employees and our patients safe, and they are grateful."