HERNDON, Va. — Omar Shoheiber, managing partner of My Dr’s Pharmacy — a member of the CARE Pharmacies cooperative — has spent a significant part of his career in health outcomes research and in medical education, where most of the programs he ran attempted to impact health outcomes at the point of care.
“Our medical education programs were often funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and the target audience was providers (physicians, nurses, pharmacists, etc.) and patients/consumers. My current pharmacy career came due to my passion in creating processes and services that improve health outcomes,” he says.
He notes that Mike Wysong, the president of the chain, has been a tremendous support to helping them figure out how to bring value to every interaction they make. “Mike does a great job challenging us to think different and act different. He is very keen on helping us understand the challenges and opportunities so we can make the right decisions and never be afraid of failure.”
He says the pandemic was an opportunity to service the community and to demonstrate what pharmacists can do when or if they are given the opportunity. “As the pandemic evolved through its various phases we had to anticipate, prepare and offer the services that are needed at that moment. Our staff understood their role as frontline health care providers. They never hesitated to provide the services needed.”
Shoheiber cites a number of things the pharmacy did. “Early in the pandemic, as the community shut down. In this phase of the pandemic, our team focused on creating safe and convenient ways to access required products and services. We offered expanded free medication delivery; procured needed PPE supplies; engaged the community in education efforts that emphasized safety; educated the community on the importance of healthy living to reduce the risk of severe COVID outcomes; and established convenient COVID testing services.
“In addition, with vaccine rollout, we partnered with our local health department to ensure safe and equitable vaccine administration in our community.” Their activities included:
- Invested in staff training and the infrastructure needed to play a significant role in COVID vaccines. This included the procurement of deep freezers and the establishment of a stand-alone vaccine clinic that gave them the space needed to administer a high volume of vaccines.
- Recruited and trained a group of nurses to support their vaccine efforts.
- Established a partnership and a collaboration agreement with a local nursing school (George Washington University) to support their vaccination efforts.
- Developed partnerships with local faith-based organizations to support community awareness efforts.
- Evolved partnerships with state and local health departments to support their community vaccine efforts. “Frankly, we had to prove ourselves and demonstrate what we can do for our local community. Once we did that, state and local health care departments started to reach out to us for consultation, rollout of various programs and support of various activities.”
- Established relationships with local community centers, assisted living facilities and other organizations servicing vulnerable populations to hold vaccination events.
Shoheiber says his team was very effective in coping with the COVID realities for the following reason. “We understood the threat facing our community and our duty or role to bring our community back to health. This was a war, and we were soldiers in this war. We needed to study, think, innovate, take risks and act. Frankly, we often had very little time to do that. Our community came to us for help, and we had to deliver. Remember, this was the time when many physician offices shut down, and access to health care was limited. We were it. We were accessible. We never shut down. So people came to us for information, support, services, etc.”
He adds that they relied on technology, such as online and mobile tools, to introduce efficiencies into their operations.
He notes that the public’s response to their COVID response was tremendous. “They trusted us to provide the services they need. Our COVID clinic has administered close to 60,000 COVID vaccines and tens of thousands of COVID tests. Many of the people who came to us for vaccines and tests offered to volunteer their time to support our community efforts.”
He adds that the pharmacy’s work during the pandemic highlighted two very critical things:
- The importance of individual health and wellness in protecting the community and establishing resiliency to external threats.
- The value of education and training in driving the community toward healthier living.
“Our local community is now accustomed to coming to us for information related to their health and well-being. They are exceptionally interested in leading a healthier life. They have been coming to us for help, and we are in the process of developing new sets of services that answer this new calling.”
Shoheiber points out that their customers are increasingly asking them to help them live a healthier life. “This has lead us to work with providers in the area, and our local nursing school to develop a set of services aimed at training our customers about how to live a healthier life. I use the term training and not education because our efforts go way beyond giving education. We are razor focused on developing skill sets for eating better, developing mental resilience (this is critical post-COVID destress) and leading a healthier lifestyle. This is about giving them the skill sets to make the right decisions. It starts by helping them understand the why. For example, why managing chronic inflammation is critical for their health and well-being. Once they understand the ‘why,’ they are more open to learning the ‘what’ and ‘how.’ ”
The pharmacy works with other health care professionals as an integral part of a patient’s health care team. “I believe we do a great job collaborating with other health care providers. We do that because we are constantly looking for those providers who share our values and interests. We are very up-front in stating our objectives and our definition of success. Finally, we are not afraid of acting. We never dance around the subject.”
He adds that education is extremely important when it comes to patient care. “It is critical. Frankly, what is needed is not just education. The pandemic taught us that we need to train people and not just educate them. Education provides information, and often this information is not actionable. Even when actionable information is provided, it is in usually in a sea of other non-actionable information. Training, on the other hand, focuses on providing a skill set. If designed right, the training should help customers think better, make the decisions that are right for them and carry their life in a healthier fashion,” he explains.
Shoheiber notes that his favorite part of the job is engaging customers to understand their needs and working with providers to develop programs and services to problems facing customers. “We are in the process of evolving our pharmacy into a wellness center, where a team of pharmacists, nurses, physicians, nutritionists and health coaches work together on providing health and wellness to the community. This wellness center will incorporate a community training facility. We will also be using online tools to expand our reach into the community. Our decision to evolve our activities into this wellness center (expected to launch in early November) is a result of numerous anecdotes where our community engagement was able to bring value to patient care. We have learned the value of collaboration and the importance of building a health living skill set,” he concludes.