April 1, 2020

Front-Line Pharmacists

Pivotal allies in the battle against disease in the community

Coronavirus continues to sweep across our nation. Those of us that live in population dense areas are feeling impact on our day-to-day lives while rural America fears what may come. Experts warn of multiple waves of infection before herd immunity is achieved. A vaccine may take a year to develop.

Meanwhile, health-systems prepare for overcrowding, providers are being pummeled mentally, physically, and emotionally, and the rest of us are concerned for the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. Thousands have died. Hundreds of thousands could.

Leadership demonstrated by state and local governments has been encouraging. Urging people to stay at home to curb the spread of disease and allowing providers to practice across state lines.

At the federal level, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a memo to Medicare Advantage Organizations and Part D Sponsors to inform them of obligations and contingencies related to COVID-19. These include the ability to remove prior authorization requirements, temporarily waive prescription refill limits, and allow for more flexibility on the home or mail delivery of prescription drugs. CMS has also relaxed payment requirements so clinicians can provide care virtually and hospitals can do what they need to do without fear of financial ruin.

On the association front, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has released a statement urging health plans and PBMs to proactively address administrative barriers that might prevent pharmacists from being able to provide patients access to early refills.

Drug shortages may be another cause for concern. On February 28th, the FDA released an update notifying the public of their anticipation of shortages for drugs and medical devices that are manufactured in China.The FDA requested that over 180 drug manufacturers evaluate their supply chains.

In the Trenches

Healthcare providers are putting everything on the line, risking their lives to save another’s. I’m heartbroken to see my brethren suffering through this crisis, but I’m not surprised.

We take an oath when we put on that white coat on for the first time. That oath becomes our mission. No matter what the situation, no matter how bad, we are there for our patients.

We have seen wonderful examples of this from the pharmacy community over the last few weeks. From compounding hand sanitizer, to passing regs prohibit inappropriate prescribing of controversial treatments, to spinning up curb-side prescription pick-up.

In Italy, pharmacies and grocery stores are among the only stores allowed to remain open. In the U.S., pharmacy chains, including Walgreens, CVS, and Rite-Aid, have pledged to help provide COVID-19 testing outside of their stores.

At a time like this, the true value of community pharmacy is on full display. Value that most of us have a hard time speaking up about (we’re humble servants). Nevertheless, comrades are rightfully being commended for their role in the pandemic. We have answered the call. And despite the recent media attention, we’ve been here all along.

Enlisting Pharmacists for Combat

Pharmacists are in an ideal position to combat disease in the community. Why? Here are 3 reasons:

  • **Access: **89% of people live within 5 miles of a pharmacy (1,2)
  • **Relationships: **People see pharmacists 8x more than PCPs (3)
  • **Outcomes: **Pharmacists improve health outcomes & lower cost (4)