Jun 14 2018

It’s Hurricane Season. Will Your Patients be Ready?

Water.  Food.  Batteries.  Flashlight.  Four things that top the list of most people when preparing to hunker down for a threatening storm.  But what happens when that storm turns out to be a Category 4 hurricane, that forces you to seek shelter with just minutes to spare?

This is precisely the situation in which millions of Gulf Coast residents found themselves last year, when Hurricane Harvey bore down, dumping 52 inches of rain and forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes.

Unfortunately, in the haste to seek dry shelter and safety, many forgot to pack their prescription medicines or failed to procure refills to ensure an adequate supply for the duration of the crisis.  Those who thought they could rely on emergency shelters to provide the medications they had left behind were often sorely disappointed.  In some instances, the Houston Chronicle reported, emergency shelters either did not have the right drugs on hand to provide patients or quickly went through their supplies.  

Dr. David Persse, Public Health Authority for the Houston Health Department described a situation where “in some cases volunteer medical workers had to depend on donated drugs, some from evacuees who left open half-empty bottles of prescription pills on a table for others to potentially use.”  The situation was especially dire for temperature-sensitive drugs that needed refrigeration, for drugs that became contaminated after exposure to flood waters, and for patients who needed controlled substances such as oxycontin.

Flash ahead to Summer 2018, and hurricane season is upon us again.  For pharmacy managers, now is the ideal time to review “disaster readiness” protocols, and make sure the proper plan is in place to ensure patients will have ample reminders to prioritize their prescription drug requirements.  

A first step is to become familiar with state health department “disaster readiness” provisions regarding prescription drugs.  In Texas, for example, pharmacists are permitted to dispense up to a 30-day supply of a prescription drug during a natural disaster without a doctor’s authorization.  Florida has a similar law in place which, according to the Broward County Sun-Sentinel, allows for fast-tracked prescription refills once the governor has declared a state of emergency, or a hurricane warning has been issued.  A consumer can obtain a 30-day supply of a medication, even if a prescription was recently filled.

It’s very important then, for a pharmacist to understand the local law, and to be ready to meet patients’ need when the time comes.

Fortunately, a pharmacy’s technology-based management system can play a critical role during these critical times.  A comprehensive system’s capabilities will often permit:

  • Proactive texts and emails to patients when a serious storm is in the forecast.  Patients can be reminded to make preparations, including ensuring access to a 30-day supply of all prescription medicines.
  • Subsequent communications can advise patients if refills or reauthorizations are required, and provide prompts for customer responses.
  • Once prescriptions have been filled, customers can be alerted that orders are ready for pick up.
  • Pharmacy pick up locations can be revised, so that a patient forced to relocate can retrieve a prescription at a branch location.
  • Electronic records of all transactions will be meticulously maintained, eliminating the risk of paperwork becoming misplaced or discarded during the frenzied period of storm preparation.
  • Pharmaceutical inventory levels can be carefully monitored so that additional supplies of popular drugs can be procured before the storm becomes imminent.
  • Should a pharmacy have to close for an extended period, customers can be notified and provided information for emergency options for obtaining a refill.  This can include information about RX Open, which helps patients identify open pharmacies in areas impacted by the disaster.  (Pharmacies should enroll as Rx Open participants, so their open/closed status can be included in storm updates.)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, disaster response officials have taken stock of the many valuable lessons learned from the experience.  For one thing, officials realize the need to maintain supplies of “most prescribed” drugs to address the inevitable demand.  Another realization is the importance of having a “Plan B,” in case of roads to pharmacies become impassable, for example.

“You can make a plan,” Houston’s Persse told the Chronicle, “but the disaster doesn’t read your playbook.”

Fortunately for pharmacists, technology can have a leading role in helping to manage a weather-related crisis and can ensure that the playbook is implemented and updated.