Navigating COVID-19 and the Pharmacy

CRI is closely monitoring the situation around COVID-19. The safety of our clients, supporters, and staff is of paramount importance to us. We are also mindful that it is essential that we all do our part to minimize the risk of community spread.

If you are one of the approximately 119 million Americans that uses at least one prescription medication, chances are you already have a routine down for how to obtain your medications. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 is likely to impact a lot of routines.

Pharmacies are one of the only places that STAY open, even in a global pandemic. They will be there to care for you, but operations may look a little different for a while.

Here is a pharmacist's guide on navigating pharmacies during the pandemic.

1) Do not stockpile

While some public health agencies recommend having a short-term supply of medication on hand in case of emergencies, you do not need a year's supply of medication right now, and there is a problem attempting to stockpile such large quantities as it will cause supply chain issues and leave other patients without necessary medication if stockpiling becomes widespread.

2) Stay away if you can

In order to preserve the ability to stay open as long as possible, we need as few people as possible contributing to traffic flow and spread of viruses within the pharmacy - COVID-19 or otherwise.

3) Skipping the pharmacy doesn't mean skipping medicines.

Skipping medications could put you at risk for needing other types of medical care otherwise unrelated to COVID-19.

So, how are you supposed to stay away if you need medications? Here are a few ideas:

4) Refill now

If you take regular medicine and are close to being due for a refill, check to see if you can get a 90-day supply filled. Many insurances are allowing overrides so that patients can fill medication earlier or in larger quantities than usual.

***IMPORTANT*** Refilling now will not be possible for everyone or every Rx. There will be numerous exceptions. Listen to what your pharmacy says about whether your medications qualify and whether YOU will need to contact your insurance company for overrides.

5) Ask about delivery

Mail-order pharmacy isn't the only way to get your medication without physically visiting a pharmacy. Many independent pharmacies have always offered free delivery services, and CVS recently waived home-delivery fees and Walgreens also recently announced they would be waiving delivery fees for "eligible prescriptions". Check with your local pharmacies to see what their policies are.

6) Make use of technology

If you do need to go to the pharmacy, make use of their available technology offerings. Many pharmacies offer apps that will show you when your Rxs are in Ready status - this means you can go and get them without guessing whether they are actually available for pick-up...or stuck in a queue of hundreds of other prescriptions (and you certainly don't want to be in line any longer than necessary).

7) Read carefully

Apps and texts are great tools, BUT, and this is a big BUT, you must take care to carefully read or listen to the message. A message that says, "Your prescription is ready for refill" does not mean the medicine is ready to be picked up. It means we are waiting for you to confirm that you need the refill - because many, many refills are never filled and never needed. If you mis-read this message, you're going to get to the pharmacy and be very disappointed when there is nothing there for you to pick up and/or you have to wait even longer.

8) Use the drive-thru or curbside pick-up

Normally those working in the pharmacy prefer that you save drive-thru use for the patients who have greater need for it - the injured or elderly, people with living with disabilities, and parents of sick infants and children. But when seeking to slow a pandemic infection, the chance that you are either exposed to virus, or pass virus-laden respiratory droplets to others may be minimized by using pharmacy drive-thru, rather than coming inside. If your pharmacy does not have a drive-thru, they may offer curbside pick-up.

And here are some general, human tips to help us all work together cohesively during a tumultuous time:

 

9) Be patient

Many of you already wonder what takes so long at the pharmacy, and I can understand that. But on top of the factors that normally take so long, realize that we are being overwhelmed with huge numbers of people asking the same exact questions you are, and many of our other patients have concerns just as serious as your own. We want to help you all, but you may have to wait longer, especially if pharmacies convert to drive-thru only modes and everyone is trying to come through the same line. Give us some grace as we work through this together (and remember to use your apps and automated systems if possible!).

10) Take responsibility

if your pharmacy tells you that you need authorization to refill early, call the Member Services line yourself. Expecting pharmacists, who already operate on skeleton crews, to call on everyone's early refills would completely disrupt our ability to actually fill prescriptions - and then no one is getting their meds in a timely fashion. We simply will NOT have the staff available to accomplish this even if it was our favorite thing to do (tbh, some days it is. people yell at us a lot for things outside our control. Insurance representatives are at least surface-level polite).

11) Realize there are exceptions to every rule

You may have to come inside the pharmacy.

You may not be able to refill for longer or earlier than normal, especially if your prescription is for a controlled substance. 

12) Think of others

Whether you are scared out of your wits or brushing this off as nothing, please stop to think about your communities. If you are afraid and want to stockpile, realize that doing so harms both your community, and by extension, yourself. If you take all the hygiene products and leave everyone else with none, the people around you will not be able to follow precautions, putting you at increased risk. If you are brushing this off as "NBD", remember that others in your community may have different reasons to be worried, such as serious health conditions and other risk factors. Please save masks for the ill and for healthcare providers performing procedures that truly require these masks. 

We encourage you to visit both Mass.gov and the CDC's Coronavirus website  to stay up to date. Real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages can be found by calling Massachusetts 2-1-1. Callers dialing 2-1-1 will hear an automated menu of options. Callers press 2-6 for coronavirus. Residents can also reach 2-1-1 through a live chat option on the Massachusetts 2-1-1 website. Through this partnership with Massachusetts 2-1-1, DPH subject matter experts are expanding access to information 24/7, and empowering call operators to provide the latest information about prevention, symptoms, and treatment, information about testing, and guidance for travel.  This new service is in addition to a dedicated site mass.gov/COVID19, which is updated daily with information and resources.