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ComputerTalk is based in Blue Bell, Pa., about 45 minutes from Center City Philadelphia. This area has been on stay-at-home orders for at least a week, and I’m sure many others are starting to experience this “new normal.” Pharmacy owners too are facing a new normal as one of the life-sustaining businesses allowed to stay open, at least in Pennsylvania. I’m sure this is happening in other parts of the country too as the United States grapples with the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
How can our technology magazine cover this event? First, we’d like to know how you’re using technology to manage your pharmacy during the coronavirus crisis. Are you using outbound communication to contact and work with your patients? Have you used telepharmacy to speak with patients? Are you using robotics or automation to relieve stress on your staff? How are you tracking deliveries?
Our columnist Marsha Millonig, R.Ph., sent us an update on her experience working five emergency shifts at pharmacies near Minneapolis, Minn., over the past few weeks:
“Each day as I scan my emails, there is an increasing number from every organization, business, or other enterprise, both public and private, about their response to COVID-19. It has been the same across the pharmacies where I have practiced as a relief pharmacist as well. I had friends starting to reach out two weeks ago to see what medicines they should have on hand in the event they were not well. Since that time, across the numerous pharmacies where I have practiced, the shelves are getting empty. An order comes in and is quickly sold out. This is true for many cough and cold, allergy, and immune booster products and thermometers. We are trying to help patients navigate their symptoms with appropriate over-the-counter products and allay concerns about seasonal allergies versus flu versus COVID-19 and encourage flu vaccination.
“So what are some of the other ways pharmacy is responding as the situation changes? Numerous operational and technical steps.
- Encouraging patients to fill for a 90-day supply and working with payers to obtain override codes to do so, to smooth operations to reduce the number of visits needed to the pharmacy.
- Emphasizing to patients to use the drive-thru when available for their pharmacy visits.
- Marking the recommended six-foot social distancing in front of all pharmacy intake and out windows with tape on the floor to help patients understand safe distancing when they must come to the pharmacy.
- Instituting much wider medication delivery service for patients, in some cases at no charge.
- Working with patients in order not to hoard important medicines for other patients (e.g., hydroxychloroquine) as a hedge against COVID-19.
- Working with suppliers to ensure adequate supplies of gloves and cleaning supplies.
- Instituting more stringent cleaning policies for pharmacy in and out windows, phones, keyboards, and other surfaces.
- Expanding hours in select pharmacy locations to assist patient accessibility while shortening pharmacy and store hours to allow for more restocking and cleaning time.
- Creating COVID-19 resource centers within the pharmacy systems.
- Some are encouraging staff to wear gloves and masks, although this is not the majority and remains a personal choice in most cases.
- Adding additional staffing to meet the increased needs due to workflow changes.
- Postponing planned nonessential programs to allow staff to focus on the increased workflow created by operational changes (delivery/insurance/clinic calls).
- Instituting bonuses for pharmacy staff because of their essential nature during this pandemic.
Here are resources Marsha shared in her email, which you might be aware of and a flu resource. If you have other resources to suggest, please share them in the comments section below.
“We are seeing an increasing number of patients presenting with masks and gloves. It is clear most people did not plan ahead, and the run on alcohol and disinfecting supplies started about two weeks ago and continues unabated. I have not seen these products available anywhere.
“In my area, the workload was already strained by the closing of 100 HealthPartners and Park Nicollet pharmacies earlier this month, with all their patients needing to find new pharmacy services and transferring all these patient profiles. That is beginning to ease in some areas — a welcome thing as the need to focus our attention on other operational activities to address COVID-19 increases.”
Marsha K. Millonig, B.Pharm., M.B.A., is president and CEO of Catalyst Enterprises, LLC, and an associate fellow at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Center for Leading Healthcare Change. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her columns here.
Maggie Lockwood is VP, director of production at ComputerTalk. She likes sharing the stories of pharmacist entrepreneurs who use technology to find success. You can reach her at email@example.com.