The role that pharmacists play in the health-care equation has been amplified during COVID-19 and has brought greater demands than ever before, the president of the BC Pharmacy Association says.
Keith Shaw, pharmacy district manager with Sobeys, says that not only have pharmacists seen a rise in demand for prescriptions – particularly at the start of the pandemic – but there has also been an increase in the information that people are seeking from them.
“We’ve always been an important part of an accessible health-care profession that people can call up and visit, but now, in addition to the regular questions, we’re getting new questions about masks or hydroxychloroquine or the ability to transfer a prescription,” he said.
Shaw said it’s a role that pharmacists are happy to fill as an essential part of the health-care system.
“Pharmacists have always been an important resource for public-health information,” he said.
Chris Engbers, a pharmacist at Winmed Pharmacy on Simon Avenue in Abbotsford, said many people are now calling pharmacists first before they call or visit their doctor.
He said they might have questions about how to refill their prescription, and he reassures them that pharmacists have the ability to do an emergency refill, a transfer or an adaptation for them.
“We’re kind of the first level, or first place, so we have a big role to play in educating the public on what they can do and help them navigate the system,” Engbers said.
He said although there were some initial concerns about 30-day limits on some prescriptions – and the additional dispensing fees involved – that is now only being done on medications that have supply issues.
In most cases, the full 90-day supply of medication can be filled, and Engbers said his customers have been understanding when that can’t be done.
Engbers said pharmacists are also adapting to new ways of working with their customers in a time when social distancing is so crucial.
He said he used to do many face-to-face interviews with customers – for example, to review their medication and potential side effects – and those are now done mainly over the phone.
When people come into the pharmacy, the front area is taped off to keep customers six feet away from the counter, and there is a Plexiglas barrier.
Engbers places the medication on the desk for the clients and then steps back while they pick it up. The debit machine is situated near the customers, or they can set down cash.
The pharmacy has also restricted access to its non-prescription products, and instead Engbers will pull from the shelf any item that a customer wants.
The pharmacy also offers a free delivery service, which helps to limit clients in the shop.
Engbers said one of the biggest challenges he has had is in being able to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and gloves.
“So we’re reusing our masks … We’ll use the same one for the whole week, which is not ideal, but we only have a limited supply available,” he said.
Engbers said he was quoted $320 for 50 N85 masks, which is cost-prohibitive.
The BC Pharmacy Association is now working on sourcing genuine suppliers who have PPE in stock to supply to pharmacies.
Shaw said he hopes the public acknowledges pharmacists among the other workers who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want people to recognize their pharmacist as somebody who’s working hard for them out in the community – an essential part of health care,” he said.