In Wednesday’s session, “Public Health and Community Pharmacy Collaborating for All-Hazard Preparedness and Response,” the presenters discussed how establishing relationships between community pharmacies and public health can be a beneficial approach to emergency preparedness and response. The panel included the following participants: Lisa A. Rosenfeld, Palm Beach County Health Department; Mitchel Rothholz, American Pharmacists Association; Rachel Abbey, Montgomery County Advanced Practice Center; and Lisa Koonin, Centers for Disease Control.
Rothholz explained that the pharmacists’ collaboration with public health builds three positive underlining principles: access, proximity, and hours.
“Pharmacies are in a unique position where they can reach mass numbers of people,” said Rothholz, “since 93 percent of Americans live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy.” Not only do pharmacists reach and communicate with many people, they are also viewed as highly trustworthy in the public eye.
Ninety-six percent of pharmacies are computerized, with databases of health information that could facilitate the targeting of messages to at-risk patients. Yet, these resources are not being optimized for emergency preparedness. However, this type of accessibility with pharmacies could meet the modern needs of public health care.
Vaccinations are one way in which pharmacies are helping to relieve some of the pressure felt by public health departments and physicians. Right now, 50 states allow pharmacists to administer immunizations, though certain restrictions vary by state. Approximately 147,000 pharmacists nationwide are trained to give vaccines. But despite the rising numbers of pharmacists qualified to give vaccines, some public health issues will require more than increased training. Patient age limitations have been an obstacle in some states.
One of the most recent examples was during H1N1, when pharmacists were not allowed to give vaccines to individuals under the age of 18. This caused public health officials and pharmacists to attempt legislative change on age restrictions. Changing such laws would enhance the value of pharmacists, especially considering the ease of access they provide to this portion of the population.
Vaccines are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities provided by pharmacy collaboration with public health. However, many more prospective partnerships such as product distribution, diabetes management, and cholesterol management, could spring from such partnerships.
Rosenfeld also discussed practical ways to engage public health and community pharmacies. She used the example of flu information cards created for pharmacy counters, which includes items you should have in your medicine cabinet at home.
To help aid public health officials in engaging pharmacists, suggestions include the following: attending adult and childhood immunizations coalitions, speaking with your local community pharmacy supervisors, and contacting your local/state pharmacy association.
Finally, public health and community pharmacies need a centralized place where information, resources, and conversation can be shared. A website was developed by the Montgomery County, Maryland Advanced Practice Center called “A Prescription for Preparedness.” This is an online environment for pharmacists and local health departments to connect on the issue of public health emergency preparedness. The sites tools are free of charge, adaptable, and can be customized to your own logo. For more information, visit www.rx4prep.org.
Jessika Boedeker is a graduate student at the University of Georgia pursuing Health and Medical Journalism.