A healthy plan: 5 ways to prepare your pharmacy for another complex season of flu and COVID

This flu season will be a challenge, yet again. Is your pharmacy ready to provide the services your community needs? 

Paige Clark By: Paige Clark

Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic pharmacists have been in a daily battle to keep communities healthy while staying focused on their bottom lines. Now, with a new flu season fast approaching and the pandemic raging on, pharmacists across the country need to be ready for what’s sure to be another trying time.

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

That’s where pharmacists come in: We can provide peace of mind in a time of stress by offering the right clinical services to serve our communities. Here are five ways pharmacies can prepare for the uncertainty of the impending flu season:

Get control of your schedule now

Don’t wait for your customers to show up at your counter with sniffly noses and sore throats. The time to get your schedule right, is right now.

First, take stock of your scheduling system:

  • Do you and your staff have a plan to help you work smarter when things get busy?
  • Are you prepared for multiple lanes of scheduling, including variant-specific vaccines?
  • Do you have the tools in place for seamless reimbursement?
  • Can you handle required state reporting?
  • Are you able to offer multiple clinical services?
  • Does your current system 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

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

Expand pharmacy services for evolving needs

In this always-changing landscape of variants and immunization stages, every customer needs something different from their pharmacist. Age-based flu shots, pediatric vaccines, variant boosters, and more— your customers’ health needs vary, maybe more than ever. That’s why it’s so important to expand your services with multiple lanes to meet the demands of your community.

  • By offering COVID and flu testing, you’re providing patients a healthy one-stop convenient shop. It’s essential to operationalize testing for both, so you can switch back and forth as the threats and seasons change. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can change — fast.
  • Rapid POC (point-of-care) testing can quickly discriminate between the two viruses, giving your patients the answers they need as soon as possible.
  • Even though the demand has waned, COVID vaccinations are still key. And research indicates the flu shot may protect against severe symptoms of COVID-19. This all means your patients could be looking for the flu vaccine in numbers beyond what you have seen in past years.
  • Variant-specific vaccines for COVID are likely also on the way, and with the different age groups and booster options available, having multiple lanes for just your COVID vaccines will be key to providing the services your community is looking for.

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. 

Test and treat for COVID

One major change from last year’s flu season is the introduction of test and treat. This program allows patients to walk into a pharmacy for a free COVID test and walk out with a free course of COVID treatment pills after a positive test.

The federal government’s recognition of community pharmacists as key healthcare providers offers new opportunities for pharmacists to continue to lead in this ongoing pandemic. Pharmacists can now order Paxlovid, the oral antibody, and provide the test to treat service. It’s worth considering opening this lane as part of your suite of clinical services.

Reconfigure your storage plan

With so many tests and vaccines needed this flu season, be sure to take a look at your current storage set up. Some things to consider:

  • Do you have enough space for all your supplies?
  • What are some creative ways you could store and administer your tests and vaccines?
  • Have you reviewed 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’ll know what your reimbursement options are.

Many COVID 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 vaccine and for COVID testing.

Healthy, happy customers. Better bottom line.

Pharmacists have an unprecedented opportunity to be a health partner in every state, providing communities with expanded testing, immunization, and reporting activities. With a few considerations and careful preparation now, you can be ready with services and support that help your customers stay well and keep them coming back to your store.

Paige Clark
Paige Clark VP of Pharmacy Programs and Policy

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