Pharmacists & Emergency Preparedness

March 20th, 2014

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By Amond Uwadineke, CHHS Extern 

When you think of emergency preparedness, do you think of the role that a pharmacist could play in a disaster? Why would we want our local Rite Aid or Walgreens pharmacist to be involved in emergency preparedness? It may be surprising to you, but the unique skills that pharmacists possess would make them a valuable asset to emergency planning, preparedness, and response.

Besides the usual job of dispensing prescription medication and patient education, pharmacists could also provide surveillance of pandemic diseases, distribution of medical supplies, and with extra training they could even triage. Just think of how pharmacists, who often are very close to their patients, can help public health officials by identifying community members who could be more at risk in emergency situations based on their medical needs. Besides a patient’s primary care physician, the next person who should know a lot about an individual’s medical history is a pharmacist.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) also believes that pharmacists should play a more active role in emergency preparedness. In particular, ASHP believe that hospital and health-system pharmacists should exercise their responsibilities in preparing for and responding to disasters, and that leaders of emergency planning should call on pharmacists to participate in a full range of issues related to pharmaceuticals.

The American Pharmacists Association, ASHP, and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation even created a guide for pharmacists when developing emergency preparedness plans for pandemics. Topics such as local/community involvement, training opportunities, staying informed, practice support, and protecting patients and staff were discussed in this guide. Pharmacist organizations around the country are recognizing that professionals in their field can play a more involved role in emergency preparedness.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also recognized the role of pharmacists in community preparedness, and illustrated the even greater role that pharmacists could play. Based on its research, the CDC suggests that given the broad reach of pharmacists and their high patient volume, pharmacists could become key first responders in improving the capability and reach of emergency response in the future.

The Palm Beach County Health Department (PBCHD) conducted a survey among Walgreens pharmacy managers and found that pharmacists are eager to be involved in all-hazards planning. PBCHD also found that 50% of pharmacists had an interest in working with local health departments to provide prophylaxis in event of a bioterror attack. And 96% of pharmacists said they would be comfortable talking to patients about medical countermeasures during a disaster.

With all of this support for greater involvement, both from external health experts and the pharmacists themselves, officials across the nation should incorporate pharmacies and pharmacists into emergency response plans if they wish to have wider reach into local communities.  Due to the nature of how these healthcare professionals interact with the public, they are an obvious key player before, during, and after a disaster.

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