COVID-19 has brought about many changes, most of them negative. However, for independent pharmacists, there is a real opportunity to serve patients during this time. The changes brought about by COVID-19 are shining a light on the importance of pharmacists as part of the healthcare continuum and opening doors for independent pharmacists to expand their care activities. The long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are yet unknown, but here are five ways COVID-19 is already impacting independent pharmacy.
1. Rise in prescription processing
Data from TDS shows a rise in prescription processing during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching as high as a 33% increase year-over-year. There are many factors that contribute to the increase in prescription processing. During these uncertain times, patients may be interested in filling a 90-day supply of their regular medications instead of a 30-day supply to avoid unnecessary outings. Independent pharmacists may also find that people are generally more concerned with their health, seeking telemedicine visits that result in prescribed medication. TDS anticipates a slight decrease in prescription processing due to 90-day orders but ultimately expects the volume to level off at a normal, or higher than normal, rate.
2. Expanded care activities
On April 8, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services authorized pharmacists to order and administer tests for COVID-19. This regulation opened the doors for increased and expanded care activities for independent pharmacists. A recent survey conducted by TDS found that 37% of independent pharmacists plan to test for COVID-19 at this time. Of the more than 8,000 independent pharmacies supported by TDS, 54% are interested in the ability to schedule patients for COVID-19 testing or regular immunizations. The changing restrictions and guidelines for COVID-19 testing are likely to continue impacting independent pharmacies, with more immunization and testing opportunities in the future.
3. Increased patient communication
COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders have forced customers and businesses to improve their communication, including independent pharmacies. Increased communication has been necessary regarding changing hours of operation, pickup and delivery methods, social distancing guidelines in stores, and more. Customers are placing a higher value on communication and regular updates from businesses, and businesses are communicating more frequently with their customers. Of the TDS pharmacies surveyed, 67% see two-way texting as an effective patient communication tool and 59% value secure messaging.
4. Changing delivery methods
Independent pharmacists are also seeking additional means to service patients in this contactless climate. According to survey results from TDS, only 21% of independent pharmacists offered curbside pick-up prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, 60% of TDS pharmacists are serving their patients with curbside pickup services, resulting in a 39% increase in curbside pickup activity.
Many independent pharmacists are also looking for ways to expand their delivery methods, providing multiple options to help customers feel secure. Prior to COVID-19, only 22% of independent pharmacies polled had a drive-thru. Now, 28% of TDS independent pharmacies offer curbside pickup, delivery, and drive-thru options. Of those surveyed, 72% of pharmacies are looking to provide touchless payment methods to prevent the spread of viruses and illnesses.
5. Increased recognition as an integral part of the healthcare continuum
Overall, COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on independent pharmacy. A new model of care is developing as pharmacists see patients ten or more times per year, versus providers who see patients three to four times per year. While doctor’s offices may be difficult to access during this time, almost 90% of Americans are within five miles of a community pharmacy. As independent pharmacists become essential in the fight against COVID-19, the healthcare continuum will continue to evolve. Pharmacists have done an incredible job rising to the needs of patients in their communities so far, and that growth is only expected to continue.