Clinic closures, new protocols at doctors’ offices, and fear have left patients in limbo across the U.S. For many, their local pharmacist is the most accessible—and often most trusted—healthcare professional even in normal times. With the pandemic, pharmacist-patient relationships have become increasingly essential in conveying accurate information about COVID-19, alleviating anxiety, and even triaging patients.

In an article on last week, Jessica Astrup Ehret, PharmD, a third-generation community pharmacist and owner of Sterling Pharmacy in Northfield, Minnesota, discussed how she and other independent pharmacists have been filling gaps in the healthcare system created by COVID-19 and building even deeper relationships with their patients.

“The role we play for so many families is so much more than meets the eye,” Dr. Ehret said.

In addition to their typical activities—filling prescriptions, educating patients on medication use, encouraging timely refills—community pharmacists are also “communicating [with] other healthcare providers to ensure that our patients are getting the care that they need without setting foot in the clinic,” she explained. 

While some of that care includes meeting medication-related needs, pharmacists have also stepped up to manage much of the routine care for their patients, such as monitoring blood pressure, maintaining immunizations, managing blood glucose levels, and recommending lifestyle changes. 

In addition, community pharmacists have taken a variety of actions to help reduce the stress and anxiety many patients are experiencing related to the pandemic, Dr. Ehret noted. 

Those actions include addressing supply issues to ensure their patients have uninterrupted access to the drugs they need and reassuring patients concerned about potential issues with their prescriptions related to COVID-19, ranging from availability to side effects. 

Pharmacists are taking steps to reduce patients’ potential exposure to the virus, including enabling high-risk patients to stay home by delivering medications and providing other health services remotely. Safely maintaining social distance and reducing transmission risk with masks and other personal protective equipment, particularly when demonstrating the use of medical devices such as inhalers and insulin pins or discussing the use of new medications, reassures nervous patients. 

For all the work they do in the pharmacy, sometimes the most important work pharmacists do encourages their patients to go elsewhere. The community pharmacist with a strong relationship with her patients is well positioned to recommend “that patients seek face-to-face care (in the clinic or emergency department) when it is necessary and [help] patients determine this level of necessity,” Dr. Ehret said.

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