Drug shortages were a problem before the pandemic. COVID-19 has furthered the issue by negatively impacting supply chains, intensifying already existing drug shortages.
According to Kit Check’s 2020 Hospital Pharmacy Operations Report, 86 percent of hospital pharmacists reported that the pandemic has caused drug shortages to occur more frequently, with 62 percent experiencing over 10 different drug shortages at the time of the report.
The impacts of drug shortages on your pharmacy operations are three-fold:
- Unprofitable time spent dealing with drug shortages
- Increased risk of medication errors and drug reactions
- Damage to the customer relationship
Drug shortages are a major time sink for pharmacies. In fact, one in four of the surveyed pharmacists reported that each shortage consumed more than 10 staff hours. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs must spend time searching for hard-to-find drugs, sourcing alternatives, communicating with doctors about prescription changes, and explaining the situation to customers. Of course, any time they spend on unproductive activities takes attention away from services that the pharmacy can bill for.
Increased risk of errors
When pharmacies experience drug shortages, they are also often forced to suggest alternative medication or risk a lapse in patient care. This can lead to safety issues from medication errors and drug reactions as a high degree of care needs to go into prescribing drug alternatives. Adverse health effects are more common when switching from a patient’s preferred drug, as pharmacists quickly become overburdened with unusual and difficult dosing.
Damage to customer relationships
Beyond the safety concerns of drug shortages, pharmacies are also frequently stuck with the blame for not having the right drugs. Standing across the counter from you, patients don’t think about the way COVID has closed factories, and they don’t question why their doctor wrote a prescription for a drug that is known to be in short supply. Instead, they blame the pharmacy for not having the medication that they believe is the best for them. This worsens the pharmacist-patient relationship that you are trying so hard to build, effectively threatening every aspect of your business.
Focus on what you can control
While you cannot do much about COVID-impacted supply chains, you can take steps to minimize their worst effects. Train pharmacy techs how to source alternatives time-efficiently and share the latest information with each other, including dosage conversions. Remind them of the value of customer service and how customer conversations should go.
In addition to these direct actions, the right strategies for your business overall can make a big difference. Our handbook “COVID and Cash Flow: How to Protect Your Pharmacy from Financial Fallout,” covers the influence of the current pandemic on the healthcare system and what that means for pharmacies, as well as how to best address these challenges and opportunities in order to maximize your cash flow and secure the long-term success of your pharmacy business.