Christine Cline-Dahlman, B.F.A., C.Ph.T
Christine
Cline-Dahlman, B.F.A., C.Ph.T

For the past two years we have seen numerous sources that verify pharmacies, particularly independent pharmacies, were leaders in administering COVID-19 vaccinations. But the growth wasn’t just for in-pharmacy administration; this public health need served as a catalyst for these pharmacies to either upgrade or expand the use of technology for their practice. The exponential growth of vaccine doses that needed to be given required pharmacies to add technology tools to their workflow.

Poole’s Pharmacy in Marietta, Ga., had what it believed to be an active immunization program. The pharmacy was already serving the adult personnel for the Marietta School District with on-site flu vaccine clinics. Its in-pharmacy vaccine count was good — the staff managed the workflow tasks nicely and was still able to provide walk-in vaccination requests. Appointments had not been necessary.

Poole’s had a staff pharmacist, Kevin Philippart, R.Ph., who was serving as their clinical services coordinator when the pandemic quarantine was implemented. He adapted workflow quickly to best serve patients. The pharmacy expanded the use of its website to inform patients. This increased the use of its phone system, so the pharmacy implemented better messaging tools, such as the text feature through its software.

As word arrived that COVID vaccines were coming, Philippart could see the need for an additional change in the pharmacy workflow to handle Georgia’s immunization registry reporting. Up until this point, Poole’s had entered its vaccinations manually. But as the staff scheduled on-site clinics to support the city of Marietta and the school district, they realized they could not take the time to enter hundreds of vaccinations every day through the manual process.

The biggest technology change the pharmacy made was to its pharmacy software. It worked with its vendor to add a feature to compose a report through billing information, then have the record uploaded as a batch to the state registry system. The technology provided consistent accuracy for posting. If there was a mismatch with patient information, a message was returned and could be corrected at the pharmacy software level, then resubmitted to the registry.

Pharmacy Scheduling Tools For Making Life Easier

Scheduling technology is now actively used by independent pharmacies at different levels.

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Poole’s has used Google Calendar for its scheduling. This tool required staff to receive a phone call, then manually input the appointment. Google Calendar does not have a feature to provide reminder communication with the patient, so the existing support staff made reminder calls for COVID vaccination appointments.

The Marquess Group of pharmacies, also in Georgia, used the scheduling tool Schedulicity for all of its on-site clinics, and some of its larger pharmacies. The tool would allow the time range to be established, as well as have any documents required to receive a vaccination uploaded for patient access.

Then the individual could choose the day/date and time that worked best. Schedulicity sent email reminders for appointments and pertinent information for the day of the vaccination. This technology provided a positive experience for the patient at clinics.

Acuity, another scheduling tool, was used by several independent pharmacies. The most frequent preference for this choice is the ease to linking this scheduling tool to the pharmacy website. Sirena Kalinski, director of pharmacy operations at Duvall Family Drugs in Duvall, Wash., states that the pharmacy has used Acuity for its appointment-based model of practice for some time.

It offers full HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance, so the staff can then use Jotform to create patient forms and documents that also meet HIPAA requirements. When COVID vaccinations became available, the scheduling was seamless.

Tiffany Capps, manager of pharmacy operations for the three Galloway-Sands Pharmacy stores in southeast North Carolina, also uses Acuity. She recognized the ease of connection with the pharmacy’s website but also watched the stats for performance. She accessed the statistical features of Acuity to track the number of appointments made by a patient on Acuity compared to the number of appointments made by a staff member on behalf of a patient.

It was nearly 50% for either side. She also calculated the amount of time for follow-up calls, compared to the savings experienced with the reminder emails from Acuity. When Capps calculated the work time to schedule the appointments, plus the email reminders, she found that the scheduling tool saved the pharmacy the wage of one full-time employee.

COVID vaccines will be around for a while. As we go to press for this article, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the bivalent formula, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has provided guidance for the administration and eligibility of the vaccine.

One of the guidelines from FDA: Immediately cease administering the current COVID vaccine and reschedule your patients for the bivalent. Does your current scheduling tool provide for immediate editing? Tiffany Capps was already adjusting the pharmacy’s tool as soon as she heard the FDA’s guideline.

A technology upgrade is an exchange. While wage savings is a factor for the use of technology, finding employees who can serve your pharmacy is a tougher task today. Technology provides a way for the pharmacist to stay engaged with clinical services, and for technicians to grow into a more active role in patient care. CT

Christine Cline-Dahlman, C.Ph.T.-Adv., founder of PharmTechForward, LLC, and is a pharmacy technician who has served in roles within independent, chain, and health-
system pharmacies. She can be reached at CClineDahlman@gmail.com.