PHARMACY

Walgreens survey finds 70% of Americans planning to get flu shot

BY David Salazar

A new survey conducted by Walgreens found patients preparing themselves for a flu season that many expect to be on par with last year’s. The survey found 40% saying they expected the flu season’s severity to be the same as last year, and 12% who expected it to be worse. In anticipation, 54% said they planned to get a flu vaccine earlier this year, with 70% saying they expected to get a flu shot at some point this year.

However, the survey found that there is ground to gain in terms of getting patients immunized, as 32% of those surveyed said they hadn’t received a flu vaccine in the past three years. That’s despite roughly 80% saying that either they or a family member had suffered from the flu in the same time period. Of those who didn’t get a vaccine, 39% said they had avoided doing so because they believed the vaccine to be ineffective.

The survey also found that despite the severity of last year’s flu season — one of the worst in recent years — some 37% of respondents said they had gone to work while suffering from the flu. Additionally, 2-in-5 of those surveyed said they stay home to protect themselves from the flu.

Walgreens noted that since 2010, it has administered more than 60 million flu vaccines to patients.

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Proactive steps can keep pharmacists safe

BY Richard Best, Stericycle

Retail pharmacists face a number of occupational hazards, and the key to mitigating risks that could compromise pharmacist safety is assessing risk with an eye toward compliance. Preventable accidents — those due to employee negligence or improper training, for instance — are far too common and can even lead to the endangerment of pharmacy customers.

Here are three ways retail pharmacies may inadvertently be compromising worker safety and health, and tips to help correct behaviors potentially leading to worker harm and noncompliance:

1. Improper device handling, leading to needlestick injuries and infection:
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an estimated 800,000 needlesticks occur each year in the United States, and retail pharmacists are not exempt from injury. Flu shots are increasingly administered in nonmedical settings, including pharmacies. Since 2010, all U.S. pharmacists are authorized to administer influenza vaccines, making drug store and supermarket pharmacies one of the most popular spots for adults to receive their annual flu shot, representing nearly 25% of all flu vaccinations. With that, however, comes an increased risk of injury.

Preventive step: Schedule staff-wide training sessions on sharps management

Pharmacies have an indisputable responsibility to protect workers from needlestick injuries, which is why they need to make training a top priority. One strategy to educate new hires and increase the skill level of existing staff includes holding a facility-wide training week — aka “Sharp Week” — that provides staff members the flexibility to attend a session that is convenient for their schedules.

2. The lack of take-back solutions:
Drug take-back programs are one of the most effective solutions when it comes to preventing the diversion, misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. Offering secure and convenient disposal options for unneeded or unused medications can be pivotal in helping pharmacists educate customers about smart disposal options. However, less than 3% of pharmacies and other entities authorized by the DEA to collect unused prescription drugs for disposal have volunteered to do so.

Preventive step: Work with government officials to grant access to medical waste disposal bins

Putting medical waste collection kiosks in close proximity to where pharmacists need to dispose of waste can help mitigate the risk of improper drug or device disposal. This is especially critical with more pharmacists administering vaccines within their facilities than ever before, and also can be a solid preventive step against sharps theft.

3. The accessibility of drugs within health care can contribute to diversion and abuse:
The prevalence of opioids within all healthcare facilities, not just pharmacies, makes institutional diversion easy to do and difficult to detect. In an effort to deter diversion within pharmacies and healthcare facilities, states are implementing prescription drug monitoring programs to facilitate the reporting of information on the prescribing, dispensing and use of prescription drugs within a state. Currently, 49 states and the District of Columbia have PDMP legislation in place.

Preventive step: Host frequent drug take-back events to create a culture of compliance

While the implementation of such programs as PDMPs is critical to maintaining compliance and preventing diversion, take-back programs are just as important when it comes to fostering a culture of compassion. The stigma associated with drug diversion and addiction among healthcare professionals — along with feelings of guilt and shame, and the fear of losing one’s job and license — often prevents workers from coming forward or seeking help. Pharmacies that host or participate in drug take-back days can help foster a sense of community and enable staff to anonymously dispose of any improperly obtained drugs.

The bottom line is that making staff and overall compliance a priority will lead to a safer, more healthful healthcare environment.

Richard Best is the director of OSHA compliance at Stericycle.

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3 tips to get your pharmacy ready for cold and flu season

As summer comes to a close and the school year ramps up, patients are preparing for the impending cold and flu season. For some patients, seasonal flu can be a major burden — particularly for children and adults age 65 years old or older who are at high risk of developing flu-related complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 600,000 people were estimated to be hospitalized for a flu-related illness during the 2016 to 2017 flu season. If these rates continue, pharmacists should expect to face a surge of visits in the coming months.

Pharmacies located within retail locations as a grocery, supermarket or club store are uniquely positioned to be a healthcare destination for consumers in need of care. Consumers tend to visit their grocery store once a week, which is a great opportunity to drive shoppers to the pharmacy in preparation for the flu season. Through our work with national and regional retail partners, I’ve identified three ways that in-store pharmacies can engage and build loyalty with shoppers during the cold and flu season, increase the value they bring to the businesses they are a part of and improve overall health outcomes.

  • Utilize the whole store: Pharmacists often are the first point of contact for shoppers looking for information about improving health and wellness. However, opportunities to work with other departments within the store to drive traffic back to the pharmacy exist. It can be as simple as cashiers reminding shoppers at the end of every transaction that the in-store pharmacy provides the flu shot. Or, placing signage in such complementary aisles as cleaning products, where messaging about disinfectants and sanitizing during cold and flu season may resonate and encourage pharmacy visits. The most important detail is the call to action, making sure your message encourages customers to speak to their pharmacist. A well-trained pharmacist can answer questions, handle objections and convince patients to be proactive about their health.
  • Step out from behind the counter: Over-the-counter medications are one of the most powerful ways to drive shoppers to the pharmacy. Once customers start adding cold and flu OTC medicines to their basket, they may be encouraged to visit the pharmacy for additional recommendations. Pharmacists can build rapport by walking through the aisles. When shoppers see that white coat out in the store, they feel more comfortable asking questions, and that pharmacist becomes more approachable. Through this touchpoint, pharmacists can engage shoppers, address potential concerns related to prescriptions and provide guidance on overall care.
  • Create value at the register: Good customer service will always be a point of differentiation for pharmacists looking to create a strong relationship with their patients. Pharmacists can demonstrate their value by providing holistic guidance, helping patients find everything they need for optimal care. They can make the experience easy and convenient for their patients by strategically positioning related cold and flu items near the pharmacy counter. Additionally, as medications are prescribed and dispensed, pharmacists can direct customers to other locations within the store where they can purchase such supplemental items to support patients in their recovery.

By using these tips in anticipation of the cold and flu season, pharmacists can deepen the connection with patients, increase value for the business and create the stickiness that will enable shoppers to look to the in-store pharmacy for ongoing care. Preparing now for what patients will need in the coming months will further position pharmacists as the critical partner in their health care.

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