The COVID Vaccine Is Here – How Should Retail Pharmacies Prepare?
Podcast Episode 3
As COVID-19 vaccines become available to the general population, retail pharmacies will play a pivotal role in vaccine administration. Learn how Harps Food Stores is implementing key strategies and following best practice recommendations to prepare for increased workload and required safety precautions.
Host: Ken Perez, Vice President of Healthcare Policy for Omnicell
- Duane Jones, BS Pharm, Clinical Program Director and Pharmacy District Manager, Harps Food Stores, Inc.
- Mike Cantrell, RPh, Esq., Sr. Director Regional Operations, EnlivenHealth™
Duane Jones, BS Pharm
Clinical Program Director and Pharmacy District Manager, Harps Food Stores, Inc.
Mike Cantrell, RPh, Esq.
Sr. Director Regional Operations, EnlivenHealth™
How has the pandemic changed the role of pharmacists in the eye of regulators?
In September 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services authorized state licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID vaccinations to patients aged three years and older. And to me that’s notable because it’s the first time I’ve seen the federal government intervene in pharmacists’ scope of practice, which has systematically been a domain reserved to the states.
In another interesting example, the California Board of Pharmacy took what I think is the brilliant step of giving pharmacists the authority to order COVID tests, interpret those test results, prescribe a COVID vaccine, and administer the vaccine. The California board is to be commended for its wisdom in recognizing the value pharmacists can bring to healthcare delivery, especially in today's pandemic situation.
Mike, your point is dead on. Pharmacists are positioned to be able to make a huge impact across the United States because this is actually what we do every day; we just haven’t been recognized for it.
So many times we pick up the phone, we call a doctor, we save somebody’s life. We intervene on behalf of the patient or guardians. We communicate with and for the patients. We take that action. Then we hang up the phone. We never document it. We never collect that data. We’ve been doing this for years and years.
I think it’s only natural that pharmacists are given the opportunity and latitude to be able to prescribe and to take care of the patients on a daily basis, eliminating one of the limiting factors in getting the vaccine out to patients as efficiently as we possibly can.
What are the biggest challenges you face in planning for mass vaccinations?
When we looked at the opportunity to provide this vaccine, we knew it was essential to have some type of a scheduling program in place. If not, we’re just going to have chaos. And we can’t have chaos in a pandemic. We have got to be the source of reason. We’ve got to be the source of logic. We have to be able to fit people into a scheduled time frame so that everyone that comes in gets the same quality of care, every time. And so that’s what we’ve looked at. That’s the biggest challenge we have.
I’ve talked to other pharmacies across the region and they have the same challenge. They’re working on a paper schedule, building a list with as many as 7,200 people. That’s a lot. How can you manage that list? Well, you can’t. I mean, it’s just impossible.
Out of the goodness of your heart, you’re trying to calm their fears by taking their name down and putting it on a list. But it just doesn’t work.
How are other retail pharmacies nationwide approaching these challenges?
It’s a pretty wide spectrum when it comes to COVID tactical plans.
Many of the chains are accelerating efforts to develop COVID programs using technology to bring order to the frenzy. They’re using technology to schedule appointments and help patients locate vaccination sites. And all of this COVID activity needs to be woven into the pharmacy’s existing operational rhythm so that it doesn’t disrupt the non-COVID business.
Also, many pharmacy operators look at this pandemic as an opportunity to promote pharmacy to a more prominent position in healthcare delivery and also to capture new patients. Now, to be successful in doing that pharmacies will need the wherewithal to execute a COVID program that delivers good or great customer services. Furthermore, the pharmacies must have the ability to satisfy the regulatory requirements associated with administering a COVID vaccine.
What strategies are getting the most traction?
The approach I’m seeing in the market that seems to be working quite well has three components:
- First, broad general patient education campaigns using existing tools.
- Second, outreach to patients – when it’s their turn for the first shot based on risk stratification.
- Third, using an appointment scheduling tool to keep the process organized.
How has technology changed your practice model?
Technology programs like medication synchronization revolutionized our pharmacy and laid the groundwork for us. It allowed us to start delegating non-clinical tasks to our technicians so pharmacists can spend quality time with patients.
We’ve taken that same philosophy into the COVID vaccine program. We use scheduling technology, and in a matter of weeks, we scheduled almost 4,000 people in for vaccination appointments. The peace of mind that gives our communities is inexpressible, because there’s a lot of fear right now.
How can your pharmacists balance mass vaccination efforts with the traditional care they offer?
Ultimately, we are going to workflow each COVID vaccination as if it is a prescription. We look at immunization as a comprehensive medication review, as a counseling session with our patients. And we can do that because the scheduling technology that we’re working with now is the scheduler we use for all of our clinical programs.
I’ve seen pharmacists that don’t have scheduling programs and they struggle and, frankly, get burned out. They’re trying to do as many things as they possibly can and end up neglecting other parts of their core business. So using scheduling technology and work-flowing COVID vaccinations in with your normal daily activities is critical.
The Future of Pharmacy Podcast is produced and distributed by Pharmacy Podcast Network. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author(s). These views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time and may not be held in perpetuity.