In our fourth episode of PharmacyNow, Scott Von Deylen sat down with Rear Admiral (RADM) Pamela Schweitzer, PharmD to discuss the coronavirus and the impact pharmacies can make in their communities.
A decorated pharmacist in her field, RADM Schweitzer retired in 2018 from her 4-year term as the Assistant General Surgeon and the 10th Chief Pharmacist Officer of the United States Public Health Service. As Chief Pharmacist Officer (first female in this role), RADM Schweitzer led the coordination of over 1,300 PHS pharmacy officers.
Additionally, she has served at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Indian Health Service, and Veterans Health Administration. RADM Schweitzer has a wide variety of experiences with developing clinical programs and managing large projects.
COVID-19 Brings New Perspectives to the Importance of Pharmacies
RADM Schweitzer discussed the impact of the coronavirus on the United States, saying she had been watching it abroad for a while. Once it hit the United States, and began spreading, it was a big wakeup call for a lot of people.
It quickly became clear that there needed to be a large availability of COVID-19 tests for communities. Due to her depth of knowledge and experience in the pharmacy world, RADM Schweitzer knew exactly who was in a position to help … pharmacists.
Springing into action, she began reaching out to numerous organizations nationwide including Tabula Rasa Healthcare to see who may be interested in helping pharmacies provide testing to their communities. The support and eagerness received helped propel the initiative, and with the passing of the PREP Act in early April, pharmacists were given the ability to administer tests.
During this process, a major flaw in the system became apparent. While many people were eager to let pharmacists help provide resources during a crisis, there was still a long way to go to make this a smooth process. Her key takeaway is there is an immense need for “a plan that booms, as soon as we have an emergency, all these other things go into place and there’s not a question. You don’t have to worry about it. We need pharmacies to be in there too and do the same thing.”
Prescribing Authority for Pharmacies
While the need for a quick and effective response to COVID-19 has highlighted the need for pharmacies to be involved in emergency response plans, additional issues have also become apparent. Namely the disconnect in prescribing authority for pharmacies.
RADM Schweitzer begins by addressing a good working relationship between pharmacists and physicians. Ideally, there is an open line of communication that allows for continuous, quality care for patients. However it isn’t always that easy. Often times the necessary infrastructure to make that happen isn’t in place.
A great example of this, she says, is when she was asked to help transition some Indian Health Service facilities to operate at a more clinical capacity. She found the distribution of the workload at these facilities made it difficult to make this transition.
The solution came down to two things: years of work and collaboration with management to increase the automation of certain services to help free up a pharmacist’s time. However, it is important that this position is not cut due to this same automation. Instead, the additional free time provides the pharmacist the ability to spend time at a clinic working with the physicians and medical teams to provide better patient care.
RADM Schweitzer says, “I always encourage pharmacists to embrace everything related to public health because they can make such a big difference in improving the health of their communities.”
Listen to the full PharmacyNow podcast episode here.