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The overdue recognition of the role of pharmacists and pharmacies in the United States' COVID-19 immunization effort has finally arrived. Earlier this month, President Biden announced the first phase of the federal pharmacy program, which will distribute vaccines directly to retail pharmacies nationwide. The U.S. government is also encouraging states to expand administration sites beyond hospital systems and local health departments to include independent and chain pharmacies.

It makes sense that the authorities are involving community pharmacies in the process. "They know how to do this," New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently said, referring to the millions of flu shots pharmacists administer every year. CVS Health alone administered nearly 20 million non-COVID-19 vaccines in 2020. And pharmacies are accessible, too, serving as the most frequent healthcare touchpoint for patients, being located within five miles of 90% of Americans.

States that have involved pharmacies in the process so far have seen success. Take West Virginia, which is outpacing the rest of the country in administering vaccines and has heavily depended on independent, locally-owned pharmacies to meet the state’s COVID-19 immunization goals.

But vaccinating large swaths of the U.S. population against COVID-19 will be challenging for pharmacies when their staffs are already busy and inundated with administrative tasks associated with their other professional activities. The time involved in undertaking the vaccination of millions of Americans will be immense. Pharmacies will need to administer multiple doses of vaccines while also counseling patients and providing the other forms of quality care they offer day in and day out.

Given the urgency of the race to vaccinate, pharmacies should leverage technology to improve the efficiency of the many other tasks they are juggling. Seamless access to patient information and tools that improve communication between pharmacies and broader patient care teams are available and can greatly contribute as pharmacies answer the nation's call for help.

Access and use of these tools will be paramount to ensuring pharmacy staff remains successful by allowing them the time and resources to support patients holistically—from medication dispensing and vaccinations to answering questions and more. Here are a few ways pharmacies can leverage technology to help streamline their commonly experienced administrative burdens 

  1. Resolving medication therapy problems.

    Pharmacists have been using electronic prescribing for nearly twenty years, but additional, mostly untapped opportunities to improve efficiency exist, specifically by reducing time spent trying to resolve administrative issues related to medication therapy. The RxChange transaction reduces faxes and unproductive hours on the phone by enabling pharmacists to request a change such as a therapeutic or generic substitution, clarification of a prescription's content or facilitation of prior authorizations with prescribers electronically. 

  2. Promoting cost transparency.

    Medication affordability can be a problematic issue for pharmacies to address because of the outdated—and often inaccurate—manual processes needed to access cost information. Benefits-based prescription price transparency tools like Real-Time Prescription Benefit enable pharmacists to access therapeutic alternatives, accurate real-time prescription costs and coverage details all within their electronic workflow.

  3. Streamlining the specialty fulfillment process.

    A recent Surescripts survey found that 40 percent of pharmacists surveyed felt that the specialty medication fulfillment process makes them feel more like an administrator than a pharmacist. Pharmacies providing specialty medications can speed up patient therapy by replacing a manual process with a streamlined, electronic workflow. Specialty Patient Enrollment automates the specialty onboarding process and electronically connects prescribers, pharmacists and specialty hubs to streamline the experience and greatly reduce patients' time to therapy. And Specialty Medications Gateway gives pharmacies the power to access the clinical data they need to complete specialty patient enrollment as well.

Pharmacies will soon play a vital role in ramping up the administration of COVID-19 vaccines. The broader healthcare industry must support pharmacists in this role by standardizing, adopting, and using the digital tools that are already available today. You can learn more here about how Surescripts supports pharmacy needs to evolve and grow by creating efficiencies in fulfillment.