In this article, a pharmacist with experience in antimicrobial stewardship and infectious diseases identifies some ways in which pharmacists can help during the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak.
Written By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS
[Last updated: 10 March 2020]
In late 2017 a CDC advisory on increased influenza cases prompted me to write a blog post about five ways pharmacists can help during a bad flu season. Now over 2 years later a new virus is making headlines. This time it is a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which can cause a disease called coronavirus disease 2019 (or COVID-19 for short).
Pharmacists, of course, play an important role in the healthcare system as a trusted resource for patients and healthcare professionals. In turn, there is much that pharmacists can do to help during this time with a new public health threat at the forefront of many people’s minds.
In this article, five ways pharmacists can help during the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak are discussed.
1. Be a role model and educate others about infection prevention basics
Leading others through example is a great way to visually show people what they should be doing. That can include performing good hand hygiene, social distancing, and other infection control measures. Demonstrating these practices can be a powerful way to leave an impression on someone since pharmacists are generally in a position of authority within society.
One easy example is to implement what has been referred to as “the ebola handshake” into your routine instead of shaking people’s hands. This refers to bumping elbows as a greeting method. Not only is showing someone the “ebola handshake” a nice way to teach them about a way to avoid hand-to-hand transmission of disease, it can also open the door to a broader conversation about infection prevention basics. If you don’t like the “ebola handshake” you could consider doing a “foot tap” or “foot shake” instead, where you tap your shoe with the person you are greeting.
Many people do not work in fields where education about infection prevention and control are part of their training or daily practice. Taking the time to offer a few key points on infection prevention basics can go a long way. Here are a few helpful resources for this:
- CDC Hand Hygiene Webpage and Videos
- CDC Flu Activity Set for Kids
- FDA Page about N-95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks)
- WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Mythbusters Page
2. Provide sound guidance to patients and customers
As discussed by Dr. Sax in a recent NEJM Journal Watch article, a surge in SARS-CoV-2 cases has the potential to overwhelm our hospitals and healthcare system’s capacity. Just like during a bad flu season, pharmacists can help provide information to patients about what level of care they should seek and how urgently. This can potentially help reduce the number of patients seeking care at Emergency Departments (who could be overwhelmed), by directing people to first go to Urgent Care or Primary Care or Telehealth.
At the same time, pharmacists can potentially help expedite seeking care for patients who should be going to an Emergency Department. Pharmacists can also advise people on the appropriate use of masks and social distancing. Becoming familiar and staying up to date with notices from the CDC, local departments of health, and local healthcare systems can assist with this (see number 5 below).
As we try to answer our patient’s questions and potentially calm nerves, we should also feel it is acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “we really don’t understand that very well at this time” if that is the best answer to a given inquiry. Beware that hypothesizing and speculating may do more harm than good.
3. Offer strategies for symptom management for patients with minor viral illnesses
This is one of the things that pharmacists are really good at. Pharmacists can continue to offer their patients over-the-counter remedies for cough, nasal congestion, rhinorrhea, pain, fever, throat pain, etc. Patients with SARS-CoV-2 and other viral illnesses that are non-severe will continue to require symptomatic therapy, pharmacists can continue to offer their expertise on what the safest and most effective options may be.
Patients with severe viral illnesses should be appropriately referred to as a healthcare provider for more advanced care, as appropriate.
4. Direct people to reliable resources
There are a lot of opinions and ideas coming out of the news media and being spread on social media. Many are misguided and some are outright dangerous. Pharmacists can continue to direct patients and customers to reliable resources such as the WHO, CDC, and local Departments of Health. Patients may have already been told to seek guidance from these sources, but we can reinforce this guidance. The social media accounts of these reliable resources can also be helpful.
- CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Landing Page
- WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Landing Page
- FL DOH Coronavirus (COVID-19) Landing Page
- CDC on Twitter
- WHO on Twitter
- FL DOH on Twitter
- CDC on Instagram
- WHO on Instagram
5. Keep up to date on the situation as it evolves
By keeping ourselves up to date on the situation as it evolves, we can be prepared to guide people who come to us with questions. These are a few of the resources I have found most helpful thus far:
- CDC Information for Healthcare Professionals
- CDC COVID-19 Cases in the U.S. Page
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Tracker (updated more frequently than the CDC website)
- WHO COVID-19 Clinical Management Document
I also find some Twitter accounts are helpful for finding new resources. I cannot completely endorse any Twitter account and advise people to beware anything you read on social media, but I do recommend the following Twitter accounts for pharmacists to consider following for COVID-19 related content: @PaulSaxMD, @ABsteward, @SHEAepi, @APIC, @IDSAinfo, @chngin_the_wrld, @EpiEllie, @Eliowa. If I didn’t mention you please don’t be offended! ?
The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak is a unique event that will require us to remain alert, prepare as best we can, and communicate with others so we can all stay safe. Everyone has a part to play and pharmacists have the opportunity to positively impact how this whole situation plays out. Please note that as this evolves, some of what is noted above may change.
DISCLOSURES The views expressed in this article represent that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of any previous, current, or potential future employers or other organizations in which he serves.
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Article by: Written By: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS