Community pharmacists willing to do more during the pandemic

by Galen Perkins ([email protected]) 875 views 

Quarantine fatigue has set in. And for good reason. We’ve faced months of economic uncertainty, mandatory closures and time away from family and friends. It’s natural for us to embrace the shift back to so-called ‘life as normal.’ But have we been too eager in our transition?

In the excitement of reopening, it’s easy to forget the duress Arkansas’ health care system has undergone, and continues to experience, from COVID-19. Restrictions may be lifting, but the coronavirus is still inundating our doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. Across the state, health care providers are facing steadily rising caseloads, with no plateau or sign of relief in sight.

One way we can immediately lessen their burden: allowing community pharmacists to help.

During times of crisis, and in everyday life, these dedicated health care professionals serve as trusted and easily accessible resources for Arkansas patients. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, 90% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a pharmacy. Nearly 20% of Americans live more than 10 miles away from the nearest hospital.

In many Arkansas cities, community pharmacists are the only health care provider available. We help answer patients’ questions about medications, symptom relief, immunizations and ongoing treatment plans. We are there to field inquiries about how to combat certain illnesses, from the seasonal flu to the coronavirus. And, as an industry, we help ensure our state has access to the medical supplies and life-saving prescription drugs necessary to keep its residents safe and healthy.

When COVID-19 cases picked up in Arkansas, responsibility quickly shifted to hospitals and other large-scale health care providers. But what about community pharmacists? We can, and are able, to do more to help our state manage this pandemic.

As U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter of Georgia once noted, pharmacists are the “most overtrained and underutilized health care professionals in America.” We hold doctorate degrees, and many of us have completed postgraduate residencies and fellowships. We combine this deep knowledge and real-world experience to provide required vaccinations, address drug shortages, compound non-commercially-available prescriptions and, when needed, help address international health crises like the coronavirus.

As Steven Anderson of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores recently noted, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Health should be applauded for their efforts to allow pharmacists to assist patients during the coronavirus. But in the coming months, they should permit us to do even more. Whether it’s compounding hand sanitizer, delivering essential medicines or ensuring Arkansans receive their flu shots safely, we hope our state will deploy us in the continued battle against COVID-19.

Editor’s note: Galen Perkins is CEO of Express Rx, a Little Rock-based pharmaceutical retailer with 20 store locations in eight states across the Southeast, and the former vice president of pharmacy services for USA Drug. The opinions expressed are those of the author.