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 statementurging 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 updatenotifying 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)

There are more than 60,000 pharmacies across the United States — tens of thousands of underutilized primary care clinics embedded in communities nationwide — on the corners of city blocks, on main streets of rural towns, down the street from your house, staffed by pharmacy *doctors, *eager to do more. Oh…and we can also fill your prescriptions, too.

Pressure to move away from a business primarily driven by filling prescriptions is at its peak . Reimbursement for prescription dispensing is dwindling, insurance companies are mandating mail-order, and Amazon is entering the market. We want to do more for our patients and we have to do more to survive.

Tools to Help the Fight

The necessity for change has never been more apparent. Our team is working tirelessly to help pharmacists evolve from a product-centric business model (drugs) to a service-driven business model (care). We are bridging the technology gap between pharmacies and health plans through a platform that enables both parties to derive value. We are developing tools that help pharmacists identify patients at risk, intervene when appropriate, and track patient outcomes. We are working with health plans deploy programs that pay pharmacists for value and reduce total cost of care.

A timely example is how we’re helping health plans & pharmacists fight COVID-19. In just 7 days, our team built a COVID-19 Risk Assessment that uses medical claims data identify patients at high risk for COVID-19 related-illness, screen for symptoms, educate on self-monitoring, and coordinate care if symptoms worsen.

Pharmacists are in an ideal position to fight COVID-19 in their communities. Screening patients at high-risk and mitigating symptom progression could keep more people at home, prevent hospitalizations & ICU admissions, free up ventilators, and prevent the health-system from overloading.

When more tests become available, pharmacies are an ideal place to conduct screenings. And once a vaccine is developed, pharmacists will be ready to immunize.

The War is Against Chronic Disease

The fear over this pandemic is real and significant, but it will pass. The fight we face against lasting, chronic disease will not pass so quickly. Nor will they dominate our media cycles. However, they are even more dangerous…silent and deadly. Current projection say more than 100,000 Americans may die of COVID-19. Heart disease and cancer kill over 1,000,000 Americans every year.

If we want to win this war, we need pharmacists. And pharmacists are willing to fight. Health plans — give them marching orders.

Samm Anderegg, Pharm.D., MS CEO | DocStation

About DocStation

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