APhA coronavirus watch: Experiencing COVID-19 in health-system pharmacy

Since the United States’ first confirmed case in January, COVID-19 has been diagnosed across the country. How did U.S. health-system pharmacists prepare for its rapid spread?

Some of the first questions Onisis Stefas, PharmD, MBA, vice president, chief pharmacy officer at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, NY, had to answer in the wake of this unprecedented outbreak were “What medications do we need? And in what quantities?” He also had to consider staffing needs in light of both additional patient volume and illnesses among pharmacy staff.

One of the main things that can stress pharmacists’ capability to serve is the lack of an adequate drug supply. For those areas of the country that are expecting more cases in the future, “You have to ensure that you have multiple venues to get access to medications,” Stefas advised.

Treatment algorithms are frequently updated as new information becomes available. For instance, the antiretroviral drug lopinavir/ritonavir (Kaletra—AbbVie) was initially touted as part of the COVID-19 treatment regimen. Then, it became hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. These treatment variations can be challenging because not enough data exists to make solid conclusions about a lot of therapies. As of this writing, there’s insufficient clinical proof that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19, and heralding the benefits of such unproven therapy can do patients a disservice.

Taking note of the lessons learned from health systems in harder-hit areas can help pharmacists prepare for the worst-case scenario. Some of these lessons include having additional flex staff, ample space for medication storage, backup medication carts, and automated dispensing machines. List servs, such as those complied by APhA, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, or the Medication Safety Officers Society, are also helpful guidance tools.

Despite the mounting stress of the pandemic, pharmacy leaders are impressed and touched by the level of dedication shown by staff. “The whole hospital is banding together,” said Stefas. “People don’t want to leave. They want to stay at work because they know what a major impact they’re having on patient care.”

For the full article, please visit www.pharmacytoday.org for the May 2020 issue of Pharmacy Today.