INSIGHTS AND PERSPECTIVES

A ‘sharp’ solution for immunization season

Mail-back programs can make navigating flu season stress-free for retail pharmacies

BY Enrico Vona, Stericycle

Immunization season is upon us, which means it’s critical for retail pharmacists to take necessary steps to ensure their sharps practices are safe, secure and compliant. Additionally, American consumers increasingly are skipping a trip to the doctor’s office and instead visiting their local pharmacy for their annual flu shot.

According to a recent Stericycle report, 25% of Americans prefer to get their flu shot at their local pharmacy, which means that pharmacies can expect more foot traffic, more vaccine administrations and more sharps disposals than in years prior. Further research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 17% of immunizations are provided at employer locations, with a high percentage of this segment conducted by traveling retail pharmacists.

With that, mail-back programs play a critical role when it comes to helping pharmacists maintain safety and productivity throughout this busy season, whether they are administering immunizations on-site at retail pharmacies or off-site at offices, schools or clinics. In fact, the mail-back system has been the primary collection and disposal process at all national and local-branded retailers since 2010, when pharmacies in all 50 states became eligible to administer flu shots.

Here are some examples of how sharps mail-back containers are helping retail pharmacists maintain compliance and quality care as their role becomes more patient-focused.

Streamlining compliance standards

As the immunizer market shifts to retail settings, pharmacy leaders need to ensure their regulatory standards are up to par. Disposing of needles — in any setting — is highly regulated by OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as state and local officials. Navigating these various regulatory channels is challenging for facilities of all sizes, which means it’s critical that pharmacies review requirements of federal or state processes around sharps disposal.

Partnering with a third-party waste management expert will help ensure compliance with regulatory requirements concerning medical waste.

Because sharps are a regulated waste, only the United States Postal Service or a licensed medical waste transporter can transport these properly packaged systems for disposal in most cases. When properly packaged by a pharmacist, mail-back containers will meet all requirements for sending sharps waste to a disposal site through USPS. Because the container is provided with prepaid postage, retail pharmacists only have to fill out a quick form and place the container in the mail, allowing them to focus on patient care.

Prioritizing safety
Fast-paced, high-volume environments can lead to stress, fatigue and, inherently, employee errors. As the role of retail pharmacists continues to transform from dispensing medications to also providing on-site patient immunizations, it’s critical that pharmacy leaders provide adequate training to create a culture around sharps safety and injury prevention.

Mail-back programs allow retail pharmacies to streamline the process of collecting and disposing of sharps, while reducing staff exposure to needlesticks, as well as mitigate risks around institutional diversion.

The convenience and simplicity of mail-back programs enable retail pharmacists to get back to the work that matters. Maintaining compliance throughout the year is critical, but especially when productivity levels need to remain high during such busy periods as immunization season. Stericycle’s assortment of turnkey mail-back systems help retail pharmacies maintain a safe and healthful workplace, providing everything needed to properly and safely dispose of sharps or small quantities of biohazardous waste. Stericycle’s systems are comprised of custom-designed, FDA-cleared, mailable sharps containers; a prepaid postage return-by-mail shipping box; manifest; and instructions for easy use. Proof of proper disposal is then provided for your records.


Enrico Vona is vice president of healthcare national accounts at Stericycle.

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