While the coronavirus clobbered many businesses, pharmacies were not among them. In fact, since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, local pharmacists have become vital cogs in dispensing crucial medical advice.
Pharmacies adapted their businesses quickly after the pandemic outbreak three years ago. According to the December’s issue of Pharmacy Times, drug stores increased their accessibility to curbside service, traditional drive-thru windows and home deliveries.
The effects of the worldwide virus outbreak remain with us. For example, Visual Capitalist reports 34% of America’s small businesses which closed in 2020 remain shuttered today. The remaining operators dramatically changed their way of doing business.
According to Forbes, “Gone are the days of pharmacists being perceived as just distributors of medication. As front-line medical workers and physicians remain busy and focused on combating COVID-19, pharmacists continue to take an active part in providing counsel, education and support to patients who have concerns about the virus.’’
As COVID-19 morphed from mass public inoculation sites to smaller, more spread-out booster shots and testing locations, neighborhood pharmacies are filling the deployment role.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 300 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered by pharmacies associated with the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. People seem more comfortable with taking medications from their pharmacist than ordering online.
A Pharmacy Times’ survey conducted in 2021 also revealed that throughout the pandemic, patients continued to prefer their local pharmacist to obtaining medication by mail order. “Although mail order seemed a safe option for those concerned about virus exposure, 85% of adults said they would rather connect with a pharmacist.”
More importantly, the survey data showed that 36% cited the fact that pharmacists know them personally and another 32% said they rely on their pharmacist to answer questions related to their medications.
The local pharmacist’s role continues to expand. Two years ago, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy was among several other state boards expanding “telepharmacy.” It allows pharmacists to deliver care to patients in remote areas where people may not have access to a pharmacist.
“The pandemic has turned our lives upside-down. In early 2020, we had to transition from brick-and-mortar to virtual systems overnight. We jumped from our business offices to working from home and from in-person medical visits to telehealth. We embraced streaming services, takeout from restaurants and virtual holiday celebrations,” according to the U.S. News and World Report.
People were driven to the internet, which has become interwoven into our daily lives. It is highly unlikely pharmacists will step back into the pre-pandemic roles.
U.S. News and World Report published a telling report in April 2021. Its findings showed we were not prepared for the infectious nature and deadly capacity of the coronavirus. The report detailed how COVID-19 affected face-to-face communication and in-person socialization. We sheltered in place, worked from home and Zoom-schooled our children.
During the COVID pandemic, patients resorted to telehealth services out of necessity but it was quickly overloaded even though internet capacity grew. Today, we are readjusting to more conversations rather than social media, emails and internet transactions.
Online pharmacies will continue to develop as well. That technology is designed to drive customers to a series of computer prompts to order medications and away from people-to-people contact. Mail order tends to reduce costs but increases frustration while people search for someone to address their problems.
The great online challenge is to more personalize service and to find a way to assign customers to a contact person to track and resolve their problems. Local pharmacists have a distinct advantage because their way of doing business is built on direct customer interaction.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.
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