How to Prepare for the Next Phase of the Pandemic: Hospital Pharmacists Share Lessons From the Frontlines

May 18, 2020

As we enter the next stage of this pandemic, with many states beginning phased re-openings and hospitals preparing to resume elective procedures, we have the opportunity to reflect on our experiences and consider how what we have learned so far can help us plan for a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.

As we enter the next stage of this pandemic, with many states beginning phased re-openings and hospitals preparing to resume elective procedures, we have the opportunity to reflect on our experiences and consider how what we have learned so far can help us plan for a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus.

To help the nation’s hospitals prepare, we sourced best practices from pharmacy leaders across the country who have experienced COVID-19 surges. We hope that these learnings will provide practical guidance for health systems on how to incorporate the pharmacy into their broader strategic plans.

Expand medication intelligence for improved decision-making
With the anticipated, continued demand for medications to treat COVID-19 (not to mention new medication demands as medical and surgical procedures ramp back up), health systems will need to pay close attention to their medication inventory.

Many hospitals experienced drug shortages and supply chain disruptions during the first wave of COVID-19 surges. To avoid these issues during a second wave, pharmacists must have clearer visibility into inventory. This will give them the ability to proactively identify inventory challenges and plan accordingly. 

We know how difficult it can be to make decisions about deploying medications during these critical times. That’s why we partnered with two leading  healthcare organizations, the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists and the Society of Critical Care Medicine, to identify and track more than 75 of the most commonly used medications for COVID-19 treatment. This intelligence will help hospitals make better, faster decisions around medication allocation and allow them to calculate what may be needed in a future surge.

Here’s an additional note on medication management. Using automated pharmacy technology like that developed by my company can help hospitals take the insights discussed above one step further by providing granular intelligence right at the point-of-care. Pharmacy leaders in surge areas told us that the level of visibility and specificity into inventory provided by automated dispensing cabinets further empowered them to implement safeguards on critical medications, project, plan, and mitigate shortages, and increase emergency care levels as needs shifted.

Adapt staff roles and workflows to accommodate new realities
This pandemic has required all staff to reconsider their typical roles and ways of working, including pharmacy staff. Many hospitals have expanded the pharmacist’s role as part of their efforts to manage this crisis. Whether it’s cross-training staff on pharmacy operations, implementing new shift models for surges, employing telehealth to interact with patients, or looking to pharmacy residents to fill staffing gaps (in some cases, they’ve even fast-tracked to graduation to support COVID-19 efforts), pharmacy practices are changing.

Beyond these small but not minor changes, the very role of the pharmacist is being reconsidered during this pandemic. Pharmacists, who are one of the most underutilized healthcare workers in the system, see an opportunity to contribute more directly to patient care during this time.

Pharmacists should always be able to perform at the top of their license. But in times of crisis, like this pandemic, they continue to raise their hands and find ways to support critical patient care needs.

Automate medication-related tasks to mitigate risk
Because pharmacists are so bogged down by administrative work, many health systems have looked to automation to free them up for tasks that are more central to patient care, directly impact medication outcomes and costs, and that reduce the overall number of medication errors. Studies show that having pharmacists deal directly with patients also improves satisfaction - and ultimately boosts bottom lines.

While by no means comprehensive, we believe that these pharmacy best practices around expanding pharmacy supply chain intelligence, adapting staff roles and workflows, and automating pharmacy tasks can go a long way toward helping health systems prepare for the next phase of this pandemic.