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How to help patients through the COVID-19 pandemic

Karen Berger medical writer and reviewer headshot By | April 13, 2020

As pharmacists, we are the ones patients turn to for advice on prescription medications, OTC recommendations, and a whole host of other issues. With COVID-19, pharmacists are truly on the front lines, working hard every day to help our patients. 

Here are some ways you can help your patients through the pandemic:

Familiarize yourself with testing locations in your area so that you can advise patients who to call and where to go for testing and evaluation. If patients call in, emphasize that they should not come into the pharmacy if they are feeling sick—it would put everyone at risk. If anyone comes to your counter sick, immediately send them to a testing site or advise them to go home and call their doctor.

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Remind patients to be prepared, but not to attempt to obtain a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine. Counsel patients that even if they do get coronavirus, they may not need hydroxychloroquine. The medication—while typically prescribed as a malarial antiviral or for treatment of lupus or asthma—also has potential drug interactions and should only be prescribed when needed and when appropriate. As for your patients who do regularly take hydroxychloroquine, reassure them that pharmacies are restricting inappropriate use and hoarding, so that the drug will be available when they need it. Offer to schedule refills for these patients.

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Explain the refill process. Tell patients that the best way to refill a medication is to call several days ahead of time, especially if there are no refills. This eliminates the need to handle used vials at the pharmacy and gives the pharmacy staff plenty of time to call the prescriber if additional refills are needed and to prepare the prescription. Suggest that patients sign up for text messaging, which will minimize trips to the pharmacy. 

Encourage minimal contact. For the safety of employees and patients, advise patients to take advantage of curbside pickup or delivery services when available. If the patient must come into the store, explain prepay options to minimize contact at the pickup window. Try to avoid cash transactions if possible. Remind patients of senior hours, if you are offering this service. Help patients who need assistance signing up for delivery.

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Suggest patients fill 90-day supplies of maintenance medications and offer to sync their meds, if possible. Filling maintenance medications, such as prescriptions for blood pressure or cholesterol, for a 90-day supply will help with compliance while also reducing trips to the pharmacy. This is a great time to “refill everything,” within reason. If a patient is calling to request a refill, take a look at what else is due and fill whatever you can (non-controls, of course) to minimize the patient’s trips.

Counsel patients to be mindful of safety measures at the pharmacy. It’s not uncommon to see patients popping their heads under plexiglass shields or standing too close together. It is for their own safety to reinforce appropriate social distancing. This is the one time you can—and should—(nicely) tell patients what to do!

Counsel patients to be mindful of safety measures at home. When you’re at the consultation window, use the time to tell patients about the importance of frequent handwashing, wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home. 

Most of all, just think about how you would want to be treated if you were the patient. When you are talking to someone while there is chaos around you, keep in mind that in this situation, you may be the only person that the patient interacts with all day. Now is not the time to worry about metrics and ready-when-promised times. People are frightened right now, and we can help not only by ensuring their prescriptions are filled appropriately, but also by maintaining calmness and being as friendly and helpful as possible. 

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