April 13, 2020
By Naomi Lopez
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance, using emergency powers available in a declared public health emergency, that allows pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests, including approved and FDA-authorized serology (antibody) tests. This is an important step that promises to more rapidly facilitate the nation’s reopening and to better protect citizens.
With more than an estimated 65,000 pharmacies across the country, these tests become far more accessible because they are often located inside grocery stores, big box retail stores, hospitals, universities, nursing homes, and prisons. There are also the well-known retail chains such as Walgreens and CVS, as well as independent pharmacies.
The new guidance, Guidance for Licensed Pharmacists, COVID-19 Testing, and Immunity under the PREP Act, states that:
“Pharmacists, in partnership with other healthcare providers, are well positioned to aid COVID-19 testing expansion. Pharmacists are trusted healthcare professionals with established relationships with their patients. The vast majority of Americans live close to a retail or independent community-based pharmacy. That proximity reduces travel to testing locations, which is an important mitigation measure. Pharmacists also have strong relationships with medical providers and hospitals to appropriately refer patients when necessary.”
Not only will this authority, as well as the accompanying liability protections, for pharmacists further limit the potential exposure to patients and healthcare workers, as patients will not need to visit medical offices in person, some providers may be redirecting their time to help support COVID-19 patients, limiting or delaying their availability to their established patients.
The pharmacist is an important provider in meeting the community testing needs, especially as policymakers and public officials prepare for lifting the shelter in place restrictions. Allowing healthcare professionals to practice at the top of their medical education and training, whether responding to the current crisis or as a matter of permanent policy, helps increase the availability of educated and trained healthcare professionals where they are needed most.
It is also consistent with the Goldwater Institute’s years-long work of getting the right treatment, to the right patient, and at the right time. Part of that includes removing artificial barriers to care. As patients have more access to their infection status, they and those around them will be better equipped to seek and obtain needed care.
Naomi Lopez is the Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.