Pharmacists are key to break free from COVID-19 paralysis

NCPA April 17, 2020

Dear Colleague,

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It's been a little over a month since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, and it's fair to say that in these extraordinary times, community pharmacy has shown it is up to the test.

We've shared many stories about the creativity, ingenuity, and dedication of NCPA members in this time of national crisis. These stories have shown without a doubt that serving patients and communities is the passion that drives independent pharmacy.

Pharmacy now has a fantastic opportunity to play an even bigger role in America's fight against COVID-19, the ability to administer and order COVID-19 tests. Importantly, that's tests — plural. The type of test that has been in the news during most of the COVID-19 crisis is for determining whether a patient is positive for the virus. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is the test that detects the presence of antibodies that may convey immunity. Information is power and knowing who might have immunity will allow employees to get back to work, students to go back to school, and families to visit loved ones. In other words, knowing antibody status might allow the country to break free from the paralysis freezing our economy and way of life.

In an economic survey conducted last week by NCPA, more than half of members said they want to conduct testing. That's a move in the right direction. The one-sided contracts from PBMs that pharmacies are being offered aren't getting more generous. While NCPA doesn't do contracting, we are fighting for reasonable reimbursement. Expanding services and working in collaboration with local physicians is a key strategy that progressive pharmacies are pursuing to increase their value in the pharmacy network.

During the H1N1 crisis of 2009, pharmacies showed the value they bring to the health care team when they worked with health departments to provide immunizations. COVID could provide a similar opportunity, but on a much larger scale. With testing now and immunizations once a vaccine becomes available, community pharmacists could be the centerpiece for helping the country get back to normalcy!

NCPA was a vocal voice working with other national pharmacy associations advocating for pharmacists to have this authority. HHS listened. From Assistant Secretary for Health Brett P. Giroir, M.D.: "The accessibility and distribution of retail and independent community-based (emphasis added) pharmacies make pharmacists the first point of contact with a health care professional for many Americans."

Before you can run with testing, there's a necessary first step. You must apply for a CLIA waiver. The NCPA Innovation Center has created a helpful video that walks you through the waiver form. As far as government forms go, it's an easy lift. If your pharmacy doesn't have a CLIA waiver, take the proactive step and apply today.

Get ready. Watch (or re-watch) our April 8 webinar, Opportunities for Pharmacy Testing During COVD-19. On our Coronavirus Pharmacy Practice page, we have a lot of resources to help you get started, including a helpful FAQ and a list of FDA Emergency Use Authorized tests.

Last week, NCPA reported that a nationwide analysis of pharmacies shows that for millions of Americans, their local independent pharmacy is not only their best option, it's their only option. According to data analyzed by NCPA, there are 14,866 ZIP codes in the United States with at least one pharmacy. In 3,057 of those, or roughly 21 percent, the only pharmacies are independently owned pharmacies, underscoring the fact community pharmacies are a patient safety net for their communities both in normal times and during a national emergency.

At Surgoinsville Pharmacy in rural east Tennessee, owner and pharmacist Beth Bryan started offering COVID testing this week. (Bryan and her pharmacy were featured in the April issue of America's Pharmacist®.) The pharmacy had its CLIA waiver in place, as they've been offering testing for flu, strep, A1C, UTI, anemia, and more. Surgoinsville Pharmacy is a CPESN® network pharmacy and as such, was well-positioned to start nasal swab testing as soon as the FDA allowed it.

We're all anxious to get back to normal. Pharmacy just got the authority to help us get there.


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Douglas Hoey, Pharmacist, MBA