As cliché as it is to say – life will never be the same as it was before the pandemic. Healthcare, in particular, underwent some of the most consequential shifts seen across all industries during that painful and challenging period.
Yet many of the policies that changed under public health emergency provisions will return to pre-pandemic status following its expiration.
But can we really ever go back?
Here’s a look at where healthcare has been over the past three plus years and how much of the future of healthcare rests with pharmacists filling gaps as an integral part of patient care teams.
Broad changes to healthcare came practically overnight
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency expanded the authority of healthcare professionals across the board.
Community pharmacists in particular saw expanded authority to administer vaccines and certain tests and conduct limited prescribing. They stepped in so patients could access care.
Existing technology helps connect pharmacists and physicians, allowing efficient communication within their existing workflows and ensuring patient medication histories were kept up to date – no matter` where they receive a vaccination.
By the end of 2022, pharmacy teams were administering two of every three COVID-19 vaccinations.
The pandemic changed life as we knew it, giving us a view into the future of healthcare. And thankfully, the technology that supports communication and collaboration across care teams isn’t going away.
- In 2022, 823,000 individuals and organizations—including more than 23,000 pharmacies—used Clinical Direct Messaging for secure, HIPAA-compliant exchange of protected health information within clinicians’ electronic workflows.
- Clinical Direct Messaging also continued to support public health reporting, facilitating the transmission of more than 23 million electronic case reports to public health agencies (+32% in 2022).
Community pharmacy and patient care: will we ever return to before COVID practices?
Pharmacists are central to patient care, and the access they provided to quality healthcare during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited testing and prescribing, helped expand patient trust in their abilities.
Pharmacists will retain many aspects of their roles as clinical care providers until the end of 2024, beyond the expiration of the public health emergency. As we return to life ‘before COVID’, healthcare’s top challenges remain, and patients will want to continue seeing their community pharmacist for vaccines and common tests or treatments.
The conclusion is obvious: pharmacists must be recognized as a permanent part of patient care teams.
- Healthcare provider burnout is pushing 1 in 5 physicians and 2 in 5 nurses to leave their practice within two years
- 66% of U.S. hospital and health system leaders reported running their facilities at less than full capacity because of staffing shortages
- 30% of all rural hospitals are at immediate risk of shutting down
And a majority of Americans agree that keeping COVID-19 public health emergency policies that make it easier for patients to access healthcare from pharmacists and other pharmacy team members – including vaccinations—is a lesson that we shouldn’t forget.
Striking a balance is key to advancing the care team evolution post-COVID
Another lesson we learned from the pandemic: change in healthcare is the only constant. But instead of reverting to life as it was pre-COVID, we should evaluate the benefit of making some changes permanent.
The COVID public health emergency expanded patient access to healthcare via telehealth and giving community pharmacists greater clinical authority.
With nine in ten Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy and 77% of patients agree that pharmacists are integral members of the care team-- the benefit to patients extends well beyond the pandemic.
Yet, more change is needed to balance pharmacists’ caring for patients to the best of their training and ability with appropriate reimbursement and access to the technology needed to be truly effective.