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The pharmacy of the future begins with COVID-19

As one of the most accessible and trusted healthcare providers, the role of the pharmacist continues to transform from simply dispensing medications to a responsibility for patient care. This has never been more important than today, during COVID-19. Pharmacists in all settings continue to transform their practices to provide safe and efficient care during the pandemic. Some of these steps may change the practice of pharmacy forever, giving pharmacists an opportunity to build on this difficult time to create the pharmacy of the future to improve patient care and outcomes.

Providing care during COVID-19
While community pharmacies are essential to helping patients protect their health and wellness, people do want to limit their exposure. Pharmacies are working very hard to provide important healthcare services, while limiting exposure through such things as drive-thrus, curbside pickup and free delivery. Even as restrictions on healthcare services begin to ease, it is important that all community pharmacies facilitate a new pharmacy experience, and we encourage patients to use what works for them.  

According to pharmacist Ghada Abu Kuwaik of CureMed Pharmacy in Clifton, N.J., “We have the power to help people and Health Mart was the engine to help us make this happen in our area. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for us.”

While cases surge and communities respond, the need for COVID-19 testing is being answered by front-line healthcare workers like pharmacists. Through a partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and eTrueNorth, Health Mart is providing testing options to rural and underserved populations. In November 2020, participating Health Mart pharmacies collected more than 200,000 COVID-19 tests. 

Expanding their role as a local provider
Right now, changes to normal procedures are designed to speed care delivery and reduce exposure during COVID-19. Many of these traditional procedures will return as soon as the pandemic is over, but some may not because consumers will tell us what is important to them from a convenience standpoint. Many of these necessity-based, direct-to-patient processes could be explored and lead to an evolution of care. Community pharmacies already play an important role as a local healthcare provider, and we expect that this role will expand as a vaccine and treatments for COVID-19 are discovered.

To stay competitive, independent pharmacies must look for new services and clinical offerings to provide differentiating value to keep the consumer engaged locally. This can include a robust front end designed to meet the needs of the community, durable medical equipment, critical point of care testing or an expanded vaccination program. 

One of the keys to expand the capabilities of pharmacies is building a well-trained and efficient team. Ensuring that all members of the pharmacy team are trained and well prepared to perform at the top of their license, credentials or training, allows pharmacists more time for patient consultation and delivery of value-add services. Pharmacist and technician training help community pharmacies remain at the cutting edge of practice and is available through state and national pharmacy associations and local pharmacy schools. Health Mart also offers a variety of online training options, including a Health Mart University course specific to COVID-19 testing.

The future is here
Community pharmacies distinguish themselves by providing a personalized patient experience. The differentiator for a pharmacy today, in addition to pharmacy performance, is to know their patients, keep tabs on their changing needs and expectations, and provide a patient-focused experience. 

They are in the perfect position to improve quality of life and clinical outcomes of patients and reduce healthcare costs with convenient and cost-effective solutions for prevention and wellness, medication adherence and condition management.  

Mike Cihlar is national vice president of pharmacy retail operations at McKesson.

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