How Pharmacy Expanded and Adapted to Serve Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published on 08 February 2021

With their unique blend of expertise, accessibility and focus on patient care, pharmacists play a critical role in responding to the health care needs of their communities. From prevention and disease state management to care transitions and medication adherence, pharmacists are able to respond quickly to the needs of patients and make an immediate impact on their health. When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Missouri and Illinois and quickly became a statewide emergency, pharmacists rose once again to the challenge of serving their communities in new and expanded ways.

While pharmacy organizations collaborated to provide pharmacists the most up-to-date information and developments as they were released by government agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pharmacists were creating innovative solutions in providing patient care.

Through telehealth services, curbside vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and more, pharmacists across the country quickly adapted to continue to support patients amid extraordinary circumstances.

As the world's understanding of the COVID-19 virus evolved, providers, practitioners and professionals across health care were inundated with updates — often changing by the hour. Pharmacy organizations recognized the need to assist pharmacists with the information overload through collaboration, virtual town hall meetings with question-and-answer sessions, and online resources.

"At Missouri Pharmacy Association, we created a resource page on our website to compile the updates and information pharmacists needed to know to provide patient care during the pandemic," said Annie Eisenbeis, Pharm.D. ’14, director of practice development at Missouri Pharmacy Association. "We served as a filter that directed practitioners to the best sources and information. When we received questions, we would research that information, connecting with state departments and taking note of what pharmacies in other states were doing."

As COVID-19 swept across the nation, it became clear to legislators that pharmacists could be instrumental in managing the overwhelming caseloads faced by their fellow health care practitioners and local hospitals through an expanded scope of practice. Legislation was quickly passed expanding Medicare Part B service reimbursements to state-licensed pharmacists.

"One of the greatest impacts of COVID-19 on the profession has been expanding the scope of practice," said Ben Calcaterra, B.S. ’02, owner and pharmacist at Logan Primary Pharmacy in Herrin, Illinois. "Allowing pharmacists to practice at the top of their license and provide testing enables us to demonstrate our ability to perform these functions, which educates other health care providers, legislators and the public. Our profession is ready, able and willing to do more than we have been allowed to do in the past."

Throughout the pandemic, pharmacists have continued to demonstrate their strength and adaptability in patient care in numerous ways.

"Face-to-face interactions are key to patient success," Calcaterra explained. "Telehealth became incredibly important when serving our patients. Even though it's virtual, we can still have that faceto-face connection that can be lost over the phone. When it comes to curbside vaccinations — that was something I wasn't specifically prepared for in my training, but my training did prepare me to adapt to a changing environment and do whatever I had to do to take care of my patients."

The lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are still to be realized, but the pandemic has brought to the forefront obstacles that advocates for the profession have been confronting for years.

"Across the profession, we are working toward two main goals — reimbursement and scope of practice," Eisenbeis said. "The pandemic has forced us to take a step back and evaluate how pharmacy organizations and advocates communicate with each other and with our legislators. That perspective helped us to break down communication barriers and reinforce how much we can accomplish through collaboration and communication. When the need to leverage the role of pharmacists in our health care communities presented itself, we were able to waive rules and regulations at state and federal levels to expedite that process."

No matter what the future holds, the profession of pharmacy and health care as a whole will be forever changed by this dire time in the world’s history. The foundation has been laid for the profession of pharmacy to continue to grow in ways that recognize the true talents and abilities of pharmacists and their impact on cultivating healthier societies.

This story was first published in the fall 2020 issue of Script Magazine. To view past issues of Script, visit the Script Magazine archive.

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