From the onset of the pandemic, pharmacists have served on the front line and played a critical role in the national response to COVID-19. Pharmacists are frequently viewed as the most accessible, trusted healthcare professionals in their community, and this standing has given them a crucial role in supporting their patients through this public health crisis. Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to educate their communities about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, and help overcome vaccine hesitancy, particularly among underserved populations.
It’s important to note that, of the more than 3,500 U.S. pharmacies who participate in the Cardinal Health COVID-19 Vaccination Network through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, nearly 2,000 serve vulnerable populations, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social vulnerability index. These populations lack adequate economic resources and have limited access to other healthcare providers. They are at higher risk of worse outcomes if infected with COVID-19, and often are more hesitant to be vaccinated.
At Cardinal Health, we are incredibly proud to support the work these pharmacists do every day, and we have been advocating for certain legislative changes so pharmacists can expand their roles as front-line healthcare professionals.
- We have partnered with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) to secure the inclusion of pharmacists in the Department of Labor’s definition of healthcare provider as it pertains to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The legislation currently exempts community pharmacies from the expanded sick and family leave provisions contained in the bill.
- We recently joined the American Pharmacists Association and a coalition of stakeholders in support of provider status legislation called The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act.This bill, which was introduced by a bipartisan team of U.S. Senators and Representatives, would ensure that Medicare beneficiaries, seniors and those in underserved communities can access the healthcare services they need from their pharmacists. (Currently, though state laws allow patients to access healthcare services from pharmacists, Medicare Part B does not cover the services when they are provided to Medicare beneficiaries.)
- Earlier this spring, we met with members of Congress as part of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill to advocate for provider status legislation as well as direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fee reform. DIR fees are collected by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and affect both retail and specialty pharmacists when they process a claim through Medicare Part D. Essentially, these fees inflate the prices that seniors pay for medications.
Our business teams continue to create innovative digital solutions that support our pharmacy customers, allow their businesses to grow and improve health outcomes for their patients.
- Our MyScheduling tool is helping pharmacy staff to effectively manage clinical work by allowing the staff and/or the patient to schedule vaccine appointments. Patients can choose the time that works best for them and MyScheduling will send automated appointment reminders to the patient.
- In “pharmacy deserts” – areas with no access to a pharmacy within a 10-mile radius – telepharmacy can be used to establish and restore pharmacy access. Through technology supported by Cardinal Health’s TelePharm team, a single pharmacist can supervise and review prescriptions remotely across multiple locations and conduct counseling virtually. As telepharmacy sites expand, we may see more of this unique intersection of in-person and telehealth services. Patients could potentially pick up prescriptions on-site and complete a video consultation with a pharmacist based at another location in the same visit.
Today, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and we are beginning to think about a return to life as we knew it before 2020, but the pandemic is not over. It continues to strain our country’s healthcare system. As the availability of vaccines continues to increase, it is my hope that more Americans will choose to get vaccinated and put COVID-19 behind us, particularly as we head into summer and see an increase in travel and recreational activities.
I’m grateful for the thousands of pharmacists who continue their work on the front line, dedicating themselves to improving the health of their patients and the strength of their communities.
Victor Crawford is the CEO of Cardinal Health’s Pharmaceutical segment, which distributes brand and generic pharmaceutical, specialty pharmaceutical and over-the-counter healthcare and consumer products. In addition, the Pharmaceutical segment provides services to support the development of these products to pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare providers across the country. Crawford also serves on the board of directors of several publicly traded companies and nonprofit organizations, including The Hershey Company, Thomas Jefferson University, the National Urban League and Pelotonia.