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Using the COVID push to build better vaccination programs

McKesson Pharmacy Systems’ Heather Cusick writes about the opportunity that COVID-19 vaccination efforts present for pharmacies to improve their vaccine workflow and further demonstrate value to patients.

As we combat the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines are front and center like never before. As pharmacists, vaccines are among the most important services we can offer to protect patient health.

Supporting the effort to vaccinate millions of Americans, McKesson is a centralized distributor for COVID-19 vaccines, delivering to sites nationwide. This industry-wide effort has brought into focus the systems and tools that can improve existing vaccine programs and clinical care services.

Vaccines Expand Clinical Care
Offering year-round immunization services, with all 17 CDC-approved vaccines, provides patients with year-round prevention and wellness. In addition to healthier patients, robust vaccination programs can help reduce healthcare spend and improve pharmacy financials. Starting, or expanding, a vaccination program means letting patients know what’s available and how it will benefit them. However, before ramping up your marketing program, analyze the local patient population and what they need. This might include travel or back-to-school vaccines.  What does your elderly population look like? Can you provide vaccine services to the local LTC facility? Or, are there opportunities to partner with local employers to support employees with on-site vaccination clinics?

Managing the COVID-19 Surge
To manage high patient volumes, there are various questions to consider to provide safe and effective accommodations. Are there workflow considerations due to COVID-19, such as limitations to the number of people in the pharmacy and social distancing standards? Considering the vaccine storage requirements, do you have the right freezer and thermometer calibration tools? What is the process for COVID-19-
specific reporting and billing?

Whether it’s handling the COVID-19 surge or managing a year-round program, having the right technology is critical to delivering these vaccines efficiently. Workflow tools provided in pharmacy management systems like McKesson’s EnterpriseRx can be used to add alerts directly into the daily workflow, letting the pharmacist know when a patient may have additional clinical opportunities available. These tools allow the pharmacy to create patient-facing portals that help capture pre-visit information to accelerate reporting compliance. This is important when billing for services that can be processed either through the pharmacy or medical claims systems.

Maximize Staff and Workflow
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it may be the expansion of clinical activities that can be performed by pharmacy technicians, which in many areas now includes administering injections. As many pharmacies have more technicians than pharmacists, this may dramatically increase the volume of vaccines that can be administered, it maximizes staff efficiency and allows pharmacists to practice at the top of their license.

Incorporating technicians into your vaccine program will require additional training and certifications. Preparing your pharmacy staff to be as educated as possible in order to clearly articulate the benefit of these vaccines will be critical to a smooth operation and happy customers.

Manage Supply and Patient Wait Time
Managing patients through a pharmacy information system will enable you to better prioritize availability. To deliver a high volume of vaccines and efficiently, use your staff, leverage technology to implement an appointment-based or medication synchronization process.

Provide Better Care with Vaccines
Vaccine programs are an opportunity for pharmacies to demonstrate value to patients, our communities and, ultimately, expand our profession. Pharmacy — especially in rural settings — has often been underutilized. The role pharmacists have played during the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing critical healthcare services such as vaccines, demonstrate that it’s time to get provider status. 

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Heather Cusick is the director of product management for clinical services with McKesson Pharmacy Systems. 

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