How to Support Retail Pharmacists during the Coronavirus Crisis

19 March 2020

Pharmacies

Drugstore pharmacists are the closest the majority of the public will get to nurses and doctors during the Coronavirus crisis. 

Says Rite Aid CEO Heyward Donigan of their role during this unprecedented global pandemic, "They are the frontline of defense in America's delivery system"

As retailers, restaurants and public institutions close their doors, and as most of us stay home and work remotely to avoid catching and spreading the virus, foot traffic to pharmacies and drugstores steadily increases.

Pharmacists are putting themselves at increased levels of risk to help the public stay healthy. 

Along with the the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to keep us safe and the supermarket employees working tirelessly to keep us fed, watered and supplied, pharmacists are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Pharmacists educate the public on keeping themselves and others safe in a time when social media is rife with misinformation about the virus.

Pharmacists advise and reassure anxious patients about symptoms they're experiencing, or worries they have about accessing and refilling medications they need as supplies get scarce. 

Pharmacists assist vulnerable or disadvantaged patients with access and delivery of their medication, when social distancing and quarantines make it increasingly difficult to do so. 

Pharmacists prevent behaviors like panic-buying and unnecessary stockpiling over over-the-counter medications, reducing strain on manufacturing and supply chains. 

And most importantly, pharmacists reduce the load on the already overtaxed healthcare system by directing patients on what action to take if they're experiencing concerning symptoms, or have come into contact with someone who tested positively for COVID-19. In many cases, they're even testing patients themselves on pharmacy premises

The role of the retail and drugstore pharmacist is critical. 

But as foot traffic increases, consumers panic and exponentially more people contract the virus every day, pharmacists' day-to-day lives are getting more stressful, more difficult and more overwhelming.

To serve the public, retail and drugstore pharmacists need support. 

Here are 4 ways to better support drugstore pharmacists during the coronavirus crisis, so they can focus on helping customers and patients. 

1) Keep them up to date and in the loop.

The nature of their jobs, training and education means that pharmacists will be extremely knowledgeable about the crisis independently of the workplace.

Even so, keeping pharmacists in the loop about recent news from the WHO, CDC and pharmaceutical advisory organizations, as well as resources they can share with patients, is essential as their workload increases. 

Even drugstore employees will be on the receiving end of a barrage of questions from customers that they may not have all the information or training required to answer correctly. It's essential that these employees be kept in the loop too. 

Considering all the misinformation and myths swirling around on social media and even the news, pharmacists and drugstore employees are role models and authority figures for the public looking for information during the crisis.

Help them help the public by giving them access to a single source of truth with a list of up-to-date resources they can share with patients - for example, the WHO's Coronavirus Myth Busters Page

Ultimately, when the public self-educates with the correct information and shares it with friends and family, everyone is safer, and the strain on pharmacists and healthcare professionals is reduced. 

2) Create and share best practices on how to handle tough situations.

As the crisis intensifies every day, pharmacists will find themselves in unprecedented situations that have the potential to be extremely mentally and emotionally taxing. 

Says the UK's Royal Pharmaceutical Society

"There will be circumstances in the coming weeks where you’ll need to do things differently and put people first and professional ethics over legislation, regulation and processes."

If worst comes to worst and prescription-only medications run low, pharmacists may have to make tough decisions about which patients need them most. 

It's key that they feel supported and have a framework from the organization when it comes to difficult situations like these. 

3) Make sure they feel safe. 

Pharmacists will be in increased contact with the public while most of us practice social distancing, so they'll be understandably worried about contracting the virus themselves and spreading it to family and friends.

Ensure that contingency plans are clear and frequently communicated across the entire network, so all employees are aware of how to enforce them. For example, pharmacists may have to: 

  • limit the number of customers in the store
  • ensure all customers maintain a distance of 2 meters from each other
  • Encourage contactless payments or ban cash payments 
  • Reassign team members who fall within a vulnerable group (immunocompromised or over the age of 60) to non-customer facing duties

Additionally, ensure that each location has all the materials they need to protect themselves, like hand sanitizer, soap, cleaning supplies, gloves and masks. 

It's crucial to open up communication channels with each location so they can report back on supply levels, and HQ can send out additional materials in enough time. 

4) Build a sense of community and prioritize staff wellbeing.

Serving the public during a crisis that escalates every day takes its toll on frontline responders.

The World Health Professions Alliance is calling on governments to prioritize support for all those directly assisting the public during the pandemic, not only because of the risk involved, but also because of the psychological toll this crisis will take on those involved.

But there's still a great deal that drugstore and retail pharmacy organizations can do to prioritize the well-being and resilience of their staff, even when things get more hectic and stressful by the day. 

Give pharmacists a platform to communicate and connect with others across the network so they can ask for help, share their experiences, and build a sense of community with colleagues - even if they've never met. 

Make sure policies around taking breaks and maximum working hours are being enforced, so pharmacists are given a chance to rest and recuperate. 

The world is a pretty scary place for everyone right now. Giving pharmacy teams the support they need helps them keep the public safe and healthy. 

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We’ve opened up access to our collaborative learning and engagement app, YOOBIC Boost, to help those on the front line of the crisis - grocery retailers, pharmacies, and healthcare services - as well as educational and governmental organizations.

With YOOBIC Boost you can also connect and communicate with all your employees in real-time during the crisis through live video, surveys and polls.

Request your free Boost account here

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