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Open for business: Pharmacies respond to emergency

BY Jim Frederick

When Hurricane Sandy flooded the streets of big cities and beachside communities on the East Coast, when Winter Storm Jonas dumped several feet of snow on cities up and down the eastern seaboard, when tornadoes devastated towns in Texas and Oklahoma, and when floods in the Midwest turned streets into waterways, local pharmacies and national pharmacy retailers were among the first responders.

Retail pharmacies play an important role in disaster and emergency situations, often acting to provide first response aid for people needing food, water, medical supplies and healthcare services.

In recent years, the integrated efforts of the retail pharmacy community have led to an increased ability to react quickly and dedicate targeted aid during emergency situations.

“For our part, community pharmacies are a valuable emergency response resource for reaching the public with essential medications and vaccines,” said Kathleen Jaeger, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ SVP of pharmacy care and patient advocacy. “Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to reach broad segments of a community, especially since 93% of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy.”

Examples abound. Jaeger noted in an emergency preparedness forum sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, “During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, pharmacists improved the capacity and reach of the public health system by administering more than 5 million doses of H1N1 vaccine in a matter of weeks. The partnership between pharmacy and the public health community that formed during this outbreak provided a foundation to strengthen and expand connections between public health entities and community pharmacies, and recognize the extensive reach and capacity of pharmacies as a vital component of emergency response.”

“As we have witnessed from forest fires to hurricanes to broad pandemics,” she added, “pharmacies play an essential role as a trusted access point for care and are committed to working … to build a stronger healthcare preparedness system.”

To that end, when natural disasters and public health emergencies occur, pharmacies work diligently to provide continued access to medicine for patients during times of crisis.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, CVS Health partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.Y.C. Department of Health and Hygiene to waive co-payment deductibles for New York residents affected by the storm.

Rx Response, set up by PhRMA in 2006, is dedicated to protecting patients’ continued access to medicine during times of crisis. This charitable organization features an integrated network of pharmacy chains that can provide real-time information to help people find open pharmacies during emergency situations, so they can continue to fill needed prescriptions. In 2015, Rx Response changed its name to Healthcare Ready to reflect its coordination of the broader healthcare system and the public sector during natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disease pandemics and other emergency situations.

In a recent response to Winter Storm Jonas, Healthcare Ready activated its Rx Open online resource tool to provide information on open pharmacies in 17 states and Washington, D.C.

Apart from making major investments in relief efforts, retail pharmacy chains are establishing policies that will allow for maximized aid during times of crisis.

Walmart, with more than 4,500 pharmacies, has been operating an Emergency Operations Center at its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., since the early 2000s. This facility is staffed with an in-house meteorologist who monitors weather patterns and a team of dedicated associates trained to respond to disaster situations.

Last year, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation invested more than $1.5 million, according to a company source, to “strengthen technological infrastructure for disaster response and resiliency, build capacity to facilitate skills-based volunteerism during disasters, and convene leaders in disaster relief to share best practices.”

CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and other retailers have responded to disasters in part by setting up mobile pharmacy trailers in affected communities to fill prescriptions and offer essential supplies. Most recently, CVS Health, Walmart and other retail drug chains have rallied support for the Flint, Mich., community through donations, education and online services.

In addition, point-of-care facilities within retail pharmacies, such as Kroger’s The Little Clinics, CVS Health’s MinuteClinics or Walgreens Boot Alliance’s Healthcare Clinics, are staffed by nurse practitioners who can provide much needed healthcare services during times of crisis. Those services can range from administering tetanus shots to dressing wounds. Retail clinics also can staff storm shelters with nurse practitioners from their in-store clinics to provide healthcare services during disaster situations.

To see the full report, click here.

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Amid access and cost challenges, U.S. health system turns to pharmacy

BY Jim Frederick

It’s time.

With the nation struggling to pay its massive health bill, medical schools turning out fewer and fewer primary care doctors, 10,000 boomers a day turning 65 years old and putting new stress on Medicare and health services, the Affordable Care Act demanding new cost-saving solutions to front-line care, and chronic diseases reaching epidemic proportions, it’s clearly time to fully engage the nation’s nearly 180,000 community pharmacists in the urgent campaign for a more effective, more accessible and less costly healthcare system.

The pharmacy profession — and the industry it drives — is up to the challenge. Armed with a doctorate in pharmacy and advanced training in pharmacology, population health, clinical care and patient counseling, today’s community pharmacists are ready and able to do more to help relieve the stress on the nation’s vast, overburdened and staggeringly expensive healthcare system.

Indeed, they’ve already stepped up as frontline providers of vital services like immunizations, medication therapy management, disease prevention, health screenings and healthy lifestyle counseling. And with a fairer and more rational payment system for pharmacy services in place, they could do much more to improve Americans’ overall wellness and curb the rising health cost spiral.

“Retail community pharmacists provide high quality, cost-efficient care and services, especially for patients with chronic conditions,” noted Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “However, the lack of pharmacist recognition as a provider by third-party payers, including Medicare and Medicaid, has limited the number and types of services pharmacists can provide, even though fully qualified to do so.”

“Pharmacists play an increasingly important role in the delivery of services, including key roles in new models of care beyond the traditional fee-for-service structure,” Anderson added. “Pharmacists are engaging with other professionals and participating in models of care based on quality of services and outcomes, such as ACOs (accountable care organizations). They’re also partnering with healthcare providers working in nearby health systems and hospitals, serving as part of care teams to help improve patient health and outcomes.”

NACDS calls pharmacists “the face of neighborhood healthcare — the final link in a chain of care that extends from health providers to patients, and unquestionably the nation’s most accessible health professional.”

‘We need to make changes’ 

The growing reliance on pharmacists as fully engaged and clinically capable members of the modern patient-care team couldn’t come at a better time. Costs of acute care services and hospitalizations have skyrocketed. And the nation’s growing shortage of primary care physicians — traditionally the first line of care for most Americans — is reaching critical levels.

This growing squeeze on the number of primary care physicians has made access to affordable healthcare a hot-button issue. And it comes even as the U.S. health system is in the midst of a “back to basics” movement that’s “making primary care once again the critical touchpoint,” according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute. “Besides elevating the role of primary care physicians, that movement is also elevating the critical importance of pharmacists, retail clinicians and other health professionals who extend and supplement the role played by family-practice doctors in a team-based, more collaborative network of frontline care,” PwC reported recently.

“America’s population is living longer than ever before; however, the number of people suffering from chronic disease is at an all-time high and growing,” noted Dr. Harry Leider, chief medical officer at Walgreens, in a report for the Congressional newspaper The Hill. “Almost half of U.S. adults — approximately 117 million people — have at least one chronic disease, resulting in three-quarters of our nation’s annual healthcare expenditures going toward costs for treatment and management of these conditions.

“We’re also challenged with a primary care physician shortage that’s only supposed to worsen, with the Association of American Medical Colleges predicting that in five years there will be nearly 100,000 fewer doctors than the number needed,” Leider added. “And, of course, there is the influx of newly insured individuals into the healthcare system as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

“Against this backdrop, it’s clear we need to make changes to our system to counter these trends that will only continue to hinder patient access,” he noted. “One viable solution is to promote the important role that community pharmacists can play in providing patient care, in the same manner as other non-physician providers like nurse practitioners and physician assistants.”

Many of the stakeholders who will determine the future direction of health care in America are beginning to heed that advice. Government and privately run health plan payers, hospital-based health systems and time-pressed family physicians are turning to pharmacies nationwide to provide more cost-effective and accessible frontline healthcare services.

“It’s often said that pharmacists are the most underutilized healthcare professional in the healthcare system,” said Anne Burns, VP of professional affairs at the American Pharmacists Association. “That’s changing as policy-makers, media outlets, healthcare administrators, and physicians and other members of the healthcare team highlight the value that pharmacists can bring to improving patients’ health and medication outcomes.”

To see the full report, click here.

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Pharmacy’s grassroots presence is telling

BY Randy Edeker

Randy Edeker, chairman, CEO and president of Hy-Vee and NACDS chairman of the board

Pharmacy’s engagement with legislators through the National Association of Chain Drug Stores RxImpact grassroots program provides a window into the industry and the profession.

Face-to-face interactions between patients and pharmacists contribute substantially to pharmacy’s value and position of trust. In a survey commissioned by NACDS last summer, half of respondents indicated that they had spoken with a pharmacist in the past 12 months about a question related to a prescription drug. They spoke with a pharmacist about an over-the-counter medication at the same rate. Three-in-10 spoke to a pharmacist about a personal health question.

Given that personal contact between patients and pharmacist is a hallmark of community pharmacies, it is only fitting that relationships between pharmacists and legislators help to develop policies that can improve access to health care.

Members of Congress have become familiar with NACDS RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill, now in its eighth year. In 2015, NACDS members conducted 462 meetings during this “Hill day,” reaching more than 85% of the U.S. Congress. Yet, the grassroots engagement of NACDS members goes beyond these meetings in Washington, D.C.

NACDS members last year hosted 156 pharmacy tours and other events for members of Congress in their states and districts. In addition, the NACDS RxImpact program invested in the future of pharmacy’s grassroots engagement by conducting 24 grassroots training programs for member companies and for colleges and schools of pharmacy.

In 2016, NACDS RxImpact Votes — the bipartisan get-out-the-vote arm of the grassroots program — is focusing on educating pharmacy personnel about opportunities to make their mark on the elections by volunteering for, and building turnout for, the candidates of their choice.

NACDS members have a somewhat unique grassroots strength in that — collectively — they operate stores in every congressional district and state. Pharmacy’s commitment to leverage this presence and to engage in productive dialogue with legislators reflects pharmacy’s role as the face of neighborhood health care. We look forward to working with members of Congress on an ongoing basis for the benefit of patients and consumers.

To see the full report, click here.

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