Community pharmacists are at the forefront of the most complex flu season ever. Here’s how to get prepared.

Four things for pharmacists to consider in the next phase of this challenging pandemic.

By Paige Clark, RPh

Pharmacists have been at the frontlines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But with the Delta variant now dominant and a new flu season coming, pharmacists everywhere must ask themselves: Am I ready for what could be the most complex flu season yet?

This year could be “a doozy” for many reasons. According to the CDC, flu activity in the 2020-2021 season was “unusually low”, perhaps because COVID-19 mitigation measures like hand washing and mask wearing led to lower flu prevalence. A decrease in some mitigation efforts combined with a large-scale return to work and school activities could lead to a significant resurgence in flu cases this fall. Add to that the rise of the Delta variant and still-emerging information on “breakthrough” cases in those vaccinated for COVID-19, and we may be entering the toughest phase of this pandemic yet.

With two major viruses in the mix, and with symptoms that often overlap, perhaps the biggest question during this flu season will be: Is it COVID, or is it flu?

And here’s where pharmacists come in: We can provide peace of mind in a time of great stress by offering the right clinical services to serve our communities. Here are a few ways that pharmacies can prepare for this complex flu season.

Get control of your schedule now

The time is now to get ready; don’t wait until customers with sniffly noses and sore throats are arriving at your counter. First, take stock of your scheduling system. Do you and your staff have something that works “just good enough” or something that will help you work smarter when things get flu-season busy?

Some questions to ask yourself about your current system:

  • Does it make scheduling services easy?
  • Does it make reimbursement possible?
  • Does it handle any required state reporting?
  • Does it offer multiple clinical services?
  • Does it allow you to scale up quickly using multiple testing products?
  • Does it help you with marketing your services?

Don’t forget to consider the patient experience. A mobile-friendly, easy-to-use scheduling tool will attract customers looking for fast help in a time of high stress.

And if you’re going to make a change, do it now, so you can train your staff before the height of the season hits.

Offer COVID-19 and flu services

This year in particular, perhaps the biggest thing pharmacists can do for their communities is to offer COVID-19 and flu testing. Rapid POC (point-of-care) testing can quickly discriminate between the two viruses, giving your patients the answers they need as soon as possible.

And with the situation evolving rapidly, it’s essential to operationalize testing for both, so you can switch back and forth as the threats and the season change. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can change—fast.

Vaccinations will still be key, even as COVID-19 vaccination demand has temporarily waned and guidance from the CDC may change. In the 2020-2021 flu season, early estimates showed that 50-55% of adults got a flu vaccine, up from 48% the previous season. And new research indicates that the flu shot may protect against severe symptoms of COVID-19.  These factors may indicate that your patients will be looking for the flu vaccine in numbers beyond what you have seen in past years.

Once you’ve decided on services, how will you let your community know about them? Will you leverage your in-store real estate and social media? Attend community events to get the word out?  Consider a pharmacy management system that can connect you to waiting patients in your area to help drive demand for your services.

Consider your storage plan

With so many tests and vaccines needed to run a smart ship this flu season, be sure to evaluate how your previous planning for storage should expand. Some things to consider:

  • Do you have the right space to keep your supplies?
  • What are some creative ways you could store and administer your tests and vaccines?
  • Be certain to review all pertinent guidance from your board of pharmacy, the CDC, and the FDA regarding vaccinations and testing.

Know your reimbursement options

The age-old question on how to get reimbursed for your services is frustratingly applicable during flu season. But by starting early and planning ahead, you can know what your reimbursement options are.

Many COVID-19 and flu services may be reimbursable by state Medicaid systems, depending on your state. In some cases, commercial payors may reimburse.

Some helpful guidance from the NCPA includes billing guidance for the COVID-19 vaccine and for COVID-19 testing.

Careful preparation now is key for your community

Pharmacists have an unprecedented opportunity to be a key public health partner in every state, providing communities expanded testing, immunization, and reporting activities. With a few considerations and careful preparation now, you can be ready with the right services.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive system to support expanded services, and marketing to your community, be sure to learn more about Prescryptive’s end-to-end digital solutions and reach out for a demo.