The COVID pandemic put a bright spotlight and an enormous responsibility on pharmacies and pharmacists. From day one, pharmacies kept their doors open. They quickly adopted new safety practices and protocols to protect patients and employees while shopping and working in the stores. To help those who needed it to get their medications and essentials, they began offering both drugs and products through the convenience and safety of the drive-through window and curbside pickup.
When testing services became available, pharmacies immediately rose to the occasion by establishing testing sites nationwide. CVS alone set up more than 4,800 testing sites1 to reliably and securely test people. As soon as the vaccine became available, pharmacies began working to inoculate America and have administered more than 108M doses to date.2 Throughout the U.S., pharmacies have transformed themselves from an important business to the most essential business.
While the pandemic drew attention to the pharmacy for its own specific needs, the pharmacy was already delivering services in ways that reached beyond the brick and mortar of its walls. Tele-pharmacy services, transitions in care opportunities, and community-based immunization clinics are a few systems the pharmacy provides that exceed just filling prescriptions and selling OTCs—and these services will continue to evolve as new needs arrive. Whether they are based online, in-person, or a combination of the two, these stalwarts of our healthcare system are constantly looking to provide innovative benefits to the communities they serve and the individuals that live within them. That has been the case long before the pandemic, at the height of COVID, and today.
For decades, doctors, patients, and caregivers have been able to order a prescription and a refill with a simple telephone call or receive an alert that their medication was ready for refill or pickup. Then, this process evolved into the ability to submit requests online. Today, a prescription refill can be sent via text message to the pharmacy. The progression of these conveniences is beneficial to doctors and patients who seem to be constantly on the go and searching for ways to make life simpler. Nevertheless, the advantages of these more robust communication methods go beyond the convenience of script filling—it has resulted in better patient health outcomes.
For example, the pharmacy can reach out to patients regarding prescription lapses and refills. This allows the pharmacy to discern why patients have discontinued their prescribed treatment. Sometimes there is a change in insurance and the patient can no longer afford the prescription, while other times the patient may be experiencing adverse side effects from the drug. Whatever the reason, through phone consultation, the pharmacist is trained to listen to the patient, learn more about their concerns, and educate them with potential solutions to their problems to get them back on the appropriate treatment.
A pharmacy is a tool for addressing all types of patient issues. They also act as a liaison between the patients and the doctor to get them what they need. In some situations, a pharmacist can identify patients who could potentially benefit from additional drug treatment. For instance, maybe the pharmacist notices that a patient is on a blood pressure-lowering medication but not on a statin, which often work well together for reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Knowing this, the pharmacist can work with the patient and their doctor to see if adding a statin is suitable.
In addition, pharmacists frequently counsel patients on which prescriptions to avoid taking together and even which foods they should avoid. So, as helpful as refill reminders can be, today’s pharmacies have evolved their tele-pharmacy capabilities to aid patients through every aspect of their treatment regimen to help keep patients healthy and improve overall health outcomes.
What is more, all of these conveniences can take place in person or simply over the phone, whatever the patient prefers. Through their interactions with patients, pharmacists essentially act as an “air traffic controller” to get patients the proper care necessary—either provided by them or referred to the right place.
Transitions of Care
A more recent trend on the rise in both community pharmacies and long-term care pharmacies is called transitions of care (TOC),3 and it can be lifesaving. When patients have to move between healthcare locations or doctors their risk of complications increases because of stress, miscommunications, and a lack of direction that can lead to errors. The effect on patients can turn into improper medication usage, hospitalization, injury, and other severe yet preventable issues.
By offering TOC, the pharmacist prevents these problems by supporting the patient through their transitions to improve treatment continuity and health outcomes. For example, TOC practices are usually implemented as patients are discharged to their homes or from one skilled care facility to another. While a patient may rely on the guidance of several doctors, the doctors do not necessarily communicate the care or treatments they provide with one another, which leaves a hole in the care continuum.
Fortunately, most patients take all of their prescriptions to one pharmacy, making it much simpler for pharmacists to stay attuned to all the medications, dosages, and uses that are part of a patient’s unique regimen. This critical information and the additional skills and expertise of a pharmacist makes them an excellent guide for getting patients set up for a successful recovery or to the next part of their healthcare journey.
Community-Based Immunization Clinics
Every state in the U.S. allows pharmacists to administer immunizations. In both rural and urban areas, pharmacists are often the closest provider of care for people in the community. The accessibility, readiness, and trust that people have in pharmacists make them an excellent resource for providing vaccinations to protect against infectious diseases. The certification for pharmacists to give vaccines was legalized back in 1996, and the trend received a significant boost in 2004 as additional states changed their laws to allow them to give shots.
Then, in 2008, with the advent of the H1N1 flu strain, pharmacists were asked to step up and be significant flu vaccine providers. At that time, the public started to see the potential for pharmacies and pharmacists to act as community immunizers.4 In more recent years, another trend has risen to the surface—vaccine clinics. Today, pop-up clinics have become a very convenient way to vaccinate employees and college students. However, the convenience of these vaccine drives is perhaps the most pertinent to the older populations who cannot always get to a doctor or a pharmacy but are certainly at risk of catching preventable diseases.
As technology has continued to develop, the world we live in today as patients and consumers has become a true blend of digital and tangible offerings. Whether driven by technology, global crises, or patient demands, pharmacies continue to provide more to the communities they serve. Seven days a week, a person can walk into one of any 50,000 retail locations to get their prescription medicine and other staples they need. Beyond the convenience and accessibility that having thousands of store locations brings, pharmacies reach beyond the store’s physical walls to give patients additional offerings online and through tele-pharmacy services.
Pharmacists are constantly evolving to be more than a provider of drugs—they are a provider of care. It takes shape in calls to patients to keep them adherent, leading people into their next at-home-care with TOC services. It means immunizing thousands of people—not simply in the pharmacy—but in places of business and community centers to protect the larger public from the spread of disease. The COVID-19 pandemic and other widespread health problems make for easy reminders of just how reliant communities are on the pharmacy. However, many of today’s conveniences have been years in the making, proving that the pharmacy is always looking for ways to uplift each community it serves.
Intuitive marketers understand that treatment conversations involve the patient, doctor, pharmacist, and often a caregiver, each with a different level of understanding of the patient’s disease state and treatment needs. Barriers to keeping sales and marketing reps out of the providers’ office have only become more robust. To overcome this, savvy marketers will utilize services that place education directly in the hands of doctors, pharmacists, and patients at the doctor’s office and in the aisles of the pharmacy. But marketers must also reach the same patients with smart-targeted, digital brand messaging as they move through their personal healthcare experience.