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NACDS webinar addresses struggles in the age of COVID

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Adversity is nothing new to those in retail pharmacy; it’s a challenging industry during the best of times. But keeping one’s head above water during a global pandemic requires a level of perseverance few in the industry have ever had to muster.

During a webinar earlier this month hosted by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Doug Long, vice president of industry relations at global health information company IQVIA and Craig Norman, senior vice president of pharmacy at grocery chain H-E-B, discussed some of the issues the industry is grappling with in the age of COVID-19 — one of the main ones being a drop-off in prescriptions.

From January through March, Long says prescription counts were relatively stable, but then after March, as the virus began to spread and became a growing concern, those numbers dropped off considerably, with more lockdowns in place amid fears of going out in public.

However, as various state economies started to open up again, prescription counts began climbing back to more stable and normal numbers — in particular, 90-day scripts.

According to the latest IQVIA data, weekly 90-day fills are up 7% from the pre-COVID data. “So 90-days have really accelerated now,” Long says, adding that the data across the board in retail are all are substantially above where they were last year.

This is good news for those retail pharmacies that have more product on hand and can fill more 90-day scripts as opposed to 30-day, Long says.

More importantly, being able to fulfill more scripts means higher adherence rates. As pharmacists often point out: Medications can’t work and treat the conditions they are targeted to treat if patients don’t take them as prescribed.

But more than just hurting patients and the chances for better health outcomes, nonadherence results in billions of wasted taxpayer dollars each year. For instance, avoidable health care costs in the U.S. due to nonadherent medication use in 2012, according to IQVIA, reached $475 billion. Of that total, more than half, 57%, or $269 billion, is directly related to patients simply failing to take their medications as prescribed — more than all of the other factors together that result in wasted spending, such as delays in evidence-based treatments, antibiotic misuse and medication errors.

Speaking from more of a frontline perspective as a retail pharmacist, Norman says he gauges the health of his pharmacy business on a weekly basis and that the filling and dispensing of medications has a profound impact on his bottom line, which has taken a hit with fewer office visits resulting in fewer scripts. “The sooner that we can get patients back into the doctor’s offices, back into the clinics, and get treatment for those acute needs that they may be very well ignoring right now, the better it’s going to be from a profitability perspective,” he says.

What might help to compensate, however, is that with concerns of flu season mixing with COVID into a superstorm pandemic, flu — as well as non-flu — immunizations are trending up, with Americans three times more likely to get a flu shot this year compared to pre-COVID. On top of that, the CDC is advising Americans to get up to date on all other immunizations, such as pneumonia and shingles. “We’re really pushing everybody we can with both of those at this point,” Norman says. “Those are probably two of the biggest protection points that we can provide to our ­patients.”


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