Washington—Pharmacists are always at the frontlines of any health crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

But, amidst all of the confusion and conflicting information, it can be difficult to know exactly what to do. The National Community Pharmacists Association recent offered some suggestions on how their members can be most helpful at this point in the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The organization recommends that pharmacists:
• Provide up-to-date influenza and pneumonia vaccinations, which could be helpful if patients contract COVID-19.
• In the 44 states to allow for pharmacist point-of-care testing, screen for influenza and strep, which aids physicians in triaging patients.
• Prescribe medications via collaborative practice agreements to help reduce the burden on primary care practices, emergency rooms, and hospitals.
• Educate the public by sending up accurate information online.
• Provide services such as prescription delivery to allow patients to stay at home if clinically advisable, which can help avoid disease transmission.
• Practice good antibiotic stewardship.

The potential role of pharmacists doesn’t end there, however. “Independent pharmacies are perfectly positioned to mass immunize once a vaccine is developed for COVID-19,” B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, chief executive officer of the National Community Pharmacists Association, wrote in a recent letter to the Department of Health & Human Services.
The NCPA also advises that pharmacists contact their local health departments immediately if they suspect any COVID-19 cases.

The American Pharmacists Association, meanwhile, has called on all of the nation’s health insurers and pharmaceutical benefit managers to immediately remove/waive any administrative barriers on pharmacists and patients for access to early medication refills from their pharmacy of choice. That way, patients can have the medications necessary for chronic diseases to address their needs during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

APhA says it supports the steps already taken by some states and payers authorizing pharmacists to dispense emergency refills or waiving early medication refill limits on 30-day prescription maintenance medications. The CDC and Department of Homeland Security have both issued guidance on the issue.

“It’s essential that patients be prepared and have adequate supplies of their prescription medications,” said Ilisa Bernstein, PharmD, JD, the AphA’s senior vice president for pharmacy practice and government affairs. “America’s pharmacists can best serve patients if barriers to access medications from their pharmacy of choice are removed now, not later. For example, health insurers and PBMs must allow early refills, remove burdensome prior authorization, and promote home delivery.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently reminded Medicare Advantage and Part D plans of their ability to remove prior authorizations requirements, waive prescription refill limits and relax the restrictions on home or mail delivery of prescription drugs.

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