A pharmacist in a stockroom.
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03/11/2021

Health Mart's Nancy Lyons highlights pharmacy's role in ending HIV during virtual event

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
Sandra Levy profile picture

As we are continuing to work through the many public health issues that the COVID-19 pandemic amplified, including a delay in progress in achieving the goals of the HIV epidemic, many of the critical needs the country is facing are being met by the local health care provider who is in the center of our communities and is one of the most visited providers- the community pharmacist. So said Nancy Lyons, Health Mart vice president and chief pharmacy officer in public comments yesterday during a virtual event on Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America, held by the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

a woman wearing a blue shirt
Nancy Lyons

Lyons noted that with each of the health care challenges identified over the past year, pharmacies and pharmacists have been called upon multiple times to be a part the solution. She pointed out that the role community pharmacies have played in COVID testing and vaccine administration has reinforced the critical role community pharmacies play in meeting the unique needs of their communities where the population lives, particularly in underserved and marginalized communities.

Lyons went on to say that more than half of Health Mart pharmacies are located in moderate and high socially vulnerable indexed communities.  In addition, a large number of Health Mart pharmacies are located in care deserts or areas where access to any health care provider is limited.

Lyons’ advice in regard to the most meaningful actions that can be taken to implement the HIV National Strategic Plan and improve implementation of the Ending, is first to focus on prevention and expand or extend HHS Ready, Set, PrEP HIV prevention program, particularly with the role that community pharmacists can play.

“Right now pharmacists can dispense PrEP medications at no cost to patients. But there is so much more that these accessible providers can perform. We all know that it is critical that the individual who begins PrEP therapy has a negative HIV test before initiation, but this creates a barrier. There has been discussion previously around potentially opening up testing at pharmacy but no path to payment is in place currently. This must be addressed as it is a critical solution that would reduce barriers and stigma,” she said.

Pharmacists could also be a collaborative extension to initiate therapy and ensure adherence in patients who choose to avoid the stigma that visiting a medical provider can have, and it could save costs, Lyons noted. “Each of these efforts would require coverage so critical initiation services could begin conveniently at the pharmacy and that sustainable services are consistently available.”

Finally, Lyons said that pharmacies can also make an impact in meeting the needs of underserved communities. “This is a particular forte of Health Mart Independent pharmacies. To enable this, authority to provide services and receive payment is critical," she said, adding, "Payment for services delivered at the pharmacy is a path forward and must include options for identification, testing and initiation of therapy to occur at the community pharmacy.”

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