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Community pharmacists should be included in COVID-19 emergency funding

Including independent community pharmacists in the next round of state funding for COVID-19 allotments will ensure that we are able to continue our outreach.

COVID-19 has made us all think about how we spend our time and whom we spend it with. Our routines have been upended, and we’re all trying to minimize and prioritize our interactions with others. When it comes to receiving health care during this pandemic, more and more people are relying on their community pharmacist.

As an independent community pharmacist, I am fortunate to have close relationships with my patients. I realize that not everyone has easy access to an independent community pharmacist, but I can assure you that there is value in seeking one out. The consensus among my pharmacy team is that COVID-19 has brought them even closer to their patients. My small team sees most of our patients every 30 days – we know them and their families, we know which providers they see and when they see them, we know what struggles they’re facing, and how to meet their individual needs. We are an integral part of their care team.

Stepping in to fill the gaps

The important role of the community pharmacist on the health care team has been brought to light during this pandemic – pharmacists are stepping up to fill gaps in the health care system left by clinic closures and changing priorities. However, pharmacists are left out of the conversation when it comes to emergency funding to cover COVID-related expenses.

Unfortunately, the voices of community pharmacists are often suppressed by the voices of large corporations. Things like $4 refills, delivery subscriptions, and $0 Medicare copays get attention rather than the immense value of the patient-pharmacist relationship. Pharmacists, in the community setting, can offer so much more, we are well positioned to provide care for patients on-demand and over time.

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We are medication experts, but we are often misunderstood and underutilized. The role we play for so many families is so much more than meets the eye.

Particularly during these challenging times, as people prioritize their interactions, pharmacists are playing a greater role. We are doing all of the typical community pharmacist things – safely and accurately filling prescriptions, educating patients about proper use of these medications, ensuring patients get their medications in a timely fashion, etc. We are also regularly communicating the other health care providers to ensure that our patients are getting the care that they need without setting foot in the clinic. We take blood pressure readings, manage blood glucose, give immunizations, and educate patients on proper use of medications and medical devices. We recommend over-the-counter products and lifestyle changes that keep people out of the clinic and hospital. We manage anxiety, related to the current pandemic, and come up with action plans for our patients. Most important, we encourage our patients to seek care when it is necessary.

Coaching patients daily

Despite COVID-19, medical needs still exist. Patients still need face-to-face provider visits, but patients are scared. As pharmacists, we are coaching patients daily about seeking necessary care, in a timely fashion, despite the ever-evolving COVID situation.

Jessica Astrup Ehret
Jessica Astrup Ehret
I need help, as do other community pharmacists, to make sure these relationships can continue and flourish. We are working hard to fill gaps in our health care system, using our education to meet the needs of our patients, and keeping our communities safe, but we have been left out of COVID emergency funding. We need to be included in this funding to make sure we can continue to serve our patients at this level.

Minnesota is a progressive state when it comes to the education of pharmacists – our pharmacists are trained to care for patients in a variety of settings, serving as the medication expert on a health care team. The state government should act so community pharmacists can expand the services they provide without oversight of other health care providers. We need to be recognized as health care providers. Utilizing the skill set of pharmacists, on the health care team, is critical for meeting the health care needs of our communities and has been proven to decrease overall costs of health care.

I am proud to be a third generation community pharmacist. I am proud of how our company and my independent pharmacy colleagues responded to the COVID threat. Overreaction or underreaction, the health and safety of our patients have always been top of mind. Including my independent community pharmacy colleagues in the next round of state funding for COVID-19 allotments will ensure we are able to continue our outreach to those we serve. It will also help to elevate independent community pharmacists, post-COVID, to valuable health care providers.

Services during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the meantime, I encourage you and your family to go see your independent community pharmacist; we can help you get through this tough time. Here are some of the things we’ve been helping our patients with during COVID-19:

  • Serving patients in person as well as delivering and/or mailing prescriptions or over-the-counter medications.
  • Helping patients manage stress and anxiety related to the current pandemic.
  • Working through supply issues to ensure patients continue to have access to their medications.
  • Collaborating with patients’ providers to meet medication-related needs in the absence of face-to-face clinic visits.
  • Reassuring patients frightened about potential COVID-related issues with their current medications, including questions about potential side effects of their medications or issues with access to medications.
  • Finding ways to maintain distance while not sacrificing patient care in order to ensure patients know how to use their medications and devices (i.e. inhalers, insulin pens).
  • Ensuring that those at highest risk of COVID-19 can stay home and still receive their medications and other health care services as safely as possible.
  • Ensuring that patients seek face-to-face care (in the clinic or emergency department) when it is necessary and helping patients determine this level of necessity.

Jessica Astrup Ehret is a community pharmacist and owner at Sterling Pharmacy, based in Austin, Minnesota, where she has been a pharmacist for nearly six years.

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