Community Pharmacists Rise to Meet Winter Weather Challenges, Survey Finds

Alexandria, Va. - March 04, 2010

Although the 2009-2010 winter season has presented patients with a variety of significant hurdles to obtaining prescription drugs and pharmacy services, a recent survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) indicated that local pharmacists stepped up to the plate to make sure that patients' health care needs were met. 

NCPA polled 85 community pharmacies in 26 snow-plagued states over a seven-day period in February, while much of the East Coast was still digging out from 'Snowmaggedon' and some areas braced for additional winter precipitation. 

"Like many Americans, community pharmacists are anxious to put this long winter season in the rear-view mirror," said Joseph H. Harmison, PD, President of NCPA and an Arlington, Texas pharmacist. "Parts of the country experienced record snowfall. Certainly, that exacerbated the winter problems that community pharmacists experienced." 

The survey findings reveal a deep commitment to continue serving patients despite the trying circumstances:

  • 79% managed to maintain normal business hours, with some pharmacies opening early or staying late as necessary. Some used generators to supply power and remain open. Others extended phone services to meet emergency needs.
  • 36% expanded their pharmacy's home delivery service area to accommodate additional patients. Sometimes this included traversing unplowed roads in four-wheel-drive vehicles or picking up groceries for homebound patients.
  • 45% witnessed an increase in the number of patients needing emergency fills due to the lack of mail service. Meeting this need usually required either contacting the physician or a lengthy phone call to the insurance company or pharmacy benefit manager for an override. In other cases, pharmacists provided a short-term supply at no cost to the patient and without reimbursement to the community pharmacy.
"These community pharmacists truly stepped up when the patient need was greatest," Harmison added. "That commitment is one reason why pharmacists are consistently among the public's most-trusted professions." 

The survey included open-ended, descriptive pharmacist responses:
  • "We bought a generator to run the computers and a few lights; we made signs to position by the main highways and paid the radio stations to broadcast that we were open for emergency medications; and we cut the fingertips out of our gloves so that we could stay warm while filling medications in a cold building."
  • "We had three feet of snow... A patient walked out of his half-mile driveway and hitch-hiked to the pharmacy to get his wife's pain medication. Rite-Aid was closed and we were the only business in town open. He was desperate to help his wife and very appreciative."
  • "Our pharmacist and two technicians volunteered to stay overnight at the store to make sure we were open the next day!"
  • "I was out during the first storm making deliveries. I turned my SUV over to my drivers and before each storm I was encouraging patients to get their prescriptions filled before the storm hit on my radio show."
  • "Called physician for new prescription for blood pressure medication. After visiting with the patient they realized that the mail order was not saving them any dollars on co-pays. I was able to fill that Rx as well as a couple of other Rxs for the same or less dollars. In addition my pharmacy was able to provide an MTM visit with the patient. This patient saw the value of a relationship with our community pharmacy."
  • "Service is clearly what sets us apart from the chains!! We delivered prescriptions during the worst hours of the blizzard and were happy to do so."
  • "On one snowy and icy night, I had a patient bring in a Rx for pain medication and the pharmacy was out of stock for the Brand Name, which is the only thing that the patient's state provided insurance will pay for. ... So after closing the pharmacist drove to another pharmacy in an adjacent town and acquired the medication, then drove it back to the pharmacy and made arrangements for it to be picked up. The patient received the medication and her therapy was not interrupted."
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA®) represents America's community pharmacists, including the owners of more than 22,700 independent community pharmacies, pharmacy franchises, and chains. Together they represent an $88 billion health-care marketplace, employ over 65,000 pharmacists, and dispense over 40% of all retail prescriptions. To learn more go to www.ncpanet.org or read NCPA's blog, The Dose, at http://ncpanet.wordpress.com.
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