How are COVID-19 and physical distancing restrictions at work affecting rheumatology professionals? The Rheumatologist interviewed clinical pharmacist Wendy Ramey, BSPharm, RPh, CSP, to discuss how the pandemic has changed the way her staff supports rheumatologists at the University of Kentucky Specialty Pharmacy and Infusion Services, Lexington. Ms. Ramey describes how these unprecedented times affect patients, pharmacists and life outside the office.
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Q: How are you and your staff adapting to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic? Has your pharmacy changed its work routine to keep your staff safe?
The specialty pharmacy staff are ‘platooning.’ Most pharmacists and techs are working from home to set up refill shipments and assess patient adherence, outcomes and adverse effects of medications. We have our clinic-based pharmacists working from home reviewing lab reports, calling patients to discuss their regimens and what precautions to take. [They are also] supporting the rheumatologists, who are conducting patient visits via telemedicine.
The dispensing team is working in the pharmacy, trying to maintain a six-foot distance from each other. If the dispensing team needs help or someone becomes sick, then one of the platoons can come into the pharmacy to relieve that team member.
All meetings are now virtual. We continue to have our regular employee training [sessions], but they’re online. We have lost the ability to precept pharmacy students, who found alternate rotations in the hospital or in retail pharmacies, where they’re working with pharmacists on the front lines.
Q: How does the specialty pharmacy use technology to continue its work?
Because our staff is mostly working from home, it was necessary to set up VPNs [virtual private networks] for everyone, [ensuring everyone has] server access, desktops with dual monitors and soft phone service for access to the call center. This [approach] has forced us to be [mostly] paperless. We’re using a fax application to send and receive paperwork to each other, insurers and financial assistance programs. We also rely much more on electronic health records and updating information in the program instead of discussing cases verbally. These are all good practices anyway. I hope to continue many of these processes when we return to our regular environment.
Q: What are your patients’ chief concerns right now?
Patients are worried about running out of their medications. We have several shortages already, including hydroxychloroquine, but also sulfasalazine and sarilumab. Soon, we anticipate that tocilizumab will be hard to get.