Improving Staffing, Encouraging Vaccines Will Be Essential During Upcoming Flu, COVID-19 Season

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In an interview at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) 2022 Total Store Expo, Doug Long and Scott Biggs of IQVIA discussed how data from Australia can help predict the strength of the upcoming flu season. With a stronger season expected this year, pharmacies will be essential to managing both COVID-19 and influenza.

Q: Some experts are anticipating a significantly stronger flu season than what we’ve seen for the last 2 years. Do you also see this, and how will pharmacies be involved in managing this?

Doug Long: We just looked at that.

Scott Biggs: Yeah, the Australian flu season has been an early predictor of what we should expect in our flu seasons and the Australian flu season has been very strong this year. You know, we’ve seen the last 2 flu seasons have been very weak. Masking, I think, had an impact on that, so now that everyone has masks off, I think we should anticipate it. Because we’re back in school, I think we should anticipate a much stronger flu season. We just have to wait and see what’s going to happen, but we suspect that we’re going to see a stronger flu season.

Q: How have pharmacists’ roles in vaccination increased and what has this meant for vaccination rates and the health care system overall?

Scott Biggs: I think it’s been tremendous in the way that their roles have increased, what it provides. You know, community pharmacy is so close to the individuals and so much more accessible than many doctors. So, you know, if you can go in and get your flu vaccine, your COVID-19 vaccine, or other vaccines at your pharmacy, it’s much more convenient, it’s much more accessible. And it’s right there in the community where some doctors are not as accessible.

Doug Long: Well, speaking of that, pharmacies see patients 10 times more often than other health care practitioners, so they really have taken advantage of it. And then some have taken more advantage of it like CVS Health Hubs and Minute Clinics. Walgreens is investing heavily to bring clinics back. So, they’re trying to make these health care destinations. And hypothetically, it’s cheaper and more convenient to the patient.

Scott Biggs: I think the question that it will become is, how do we get these pharmacies adequately reimbursed for the services they provide?

Q: Do you see this trend continuing to grow for vaccination and other services?

Scott Biggs: I believe so. Yeah, I think pharmacies—we’ve mentioned before that they’re trusted, professional, they’re easy access. And with them being so close to proximity and in the communities across the country, I think it’s just a place for them to go.

Doug Long: I mean, they stepped up. They stepped up during flu, they really stepped up during COVID-19. So why not?

Q: With this anticipated to be an active flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, what can pharmacies expect for point-of-care testing and how can they handle the growth in demand for these services?

Scott Biggs: I think they’re going to need to continue to beef up staffing. And it sounds like ordinary workflow, but you’re going to need to how to how to work it into the workflow. But I know they’ll find a way to actually rise up to the occasion and serve the needs.

Q: What other trends or issues do you see in the next couple of years?

Scott Biggs: I think [with] biosimilars, we’re going to see an increase in biosimilars that will provide cost savings to the consumer.

Doug Long: Big one is Humira in January.

Scott Biggs: It loses exclusivity, you know. And Stelara. So, the number 1 and number 4 drugs lose exclusivity and face biosimilar competition in the next couple of years. So, it’ll be very interesting to watch.

Q: How can pharmacists look ahead to the future and prepare for these trends?

Scott Biggs: I think they’re going to need to really work hard at, we’ve talked about staffing being an issue, they’re going to need to make sure that pharmacies are staffed well. And, you know, [work on] how to work in these extra services into their workflow, so that they can really become that place where the consumer, the patient comes to for those services that they need, that they’re not getting as easily accessible through the primary care provider.

Doug Long: And that makes automation very, very important. You know, central fill. As you know, a lot of places, you fill these prescriptions overnight and ship into the stores the next day, rather than relying on the pharmacists and technicians to do it. With this more automated process, we see more of that because there’ll be more face-to-face interaction required with the patients.

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