Texas pharmacists finding new ways to fight COVID-19

Investigations

AUSITN (KXAN) – Every few minutes outside Tarrytown Pharmacy a cashier emerges wearing a mask, gloves and holding a grabber. 

The cashier is bringing out prescriptions for customers who are keeping distance outside. Some even carry a small green bottle filled with alcohol. It’s to disinfect paper prescriptions that are still coming into the pharmacy. 

“Just give it a quick squirt of alcohol just to help keep it sanitized,” explains Rannon Ching with Tarrytown Pharmacy. “We wanted to make sure that we minimize the sort of risk and exposure to possibly getting the virus.” 

Ching says they’ve been also putting the hard copies in plastic bags and scanning the prescriptions so that they remain isolated. “There are certain studies out there that show that the virus can last for quite a while on surfaces besides just in the droplets passed between people,” says Ching. 

He says even though they’ve gone from about 30 paper prescriptions a day to about five, he says it’s still concerning. Ching says lately his pharmacy has seen an uptick in paper prescriptions from freestanding ER’s. 

The pharmacy has moved services to curbside, delivery and online during COVID-19. The team says over the last several weeks they’ve had to come up with new ways to combat the virus and keep everyone safe. 

There is no mandate to call in or electronically send in a prescription in the state. The Texas Medical Association, which represents doctors across the state, says it’s  encouraging prescribers to follow its best practices recommendation which includes telemedicine. 

“The prescribing provider transmits medication prescriptions electronically directly to the patient’s pharmacy (or calls in the order to the pharmacy if the technology is not available),” outlines TMA addressing prescribing and medication management. 

Allison Benz with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy tells KXAN investigator Arezow Doost that pharmacists are asking for guidance on how to handle paper copies during the outbreak. The board is telling them to follow CDC guidelines which says to avoid taking anything from customers. 

CDC guidelines to pharmacists:

  • Encourage all prescribers to submit prescription orders via telephone or electronically. The pharmacy should develop procedures to avoid handling paper prescriptions, in accordance with appropriate state laws, regulations, or executive orders.
  •  Avoid handling insurance or benefit cards. Instead, have the customer take a picture of the card for processing or read aloud the information that is needed (in a private location so other customers cannot hear).
  • Avoid touching objects that have been handled by customers. If transfer of items must occur, pharmacy staff should wash their hands afterwards with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. They should always avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

“We’re really trying to do our best to minimize any sort of passing between patients and staff at the pharmacy,” says Ching. He tells Doost that the technology to move electronically can be expensive making it hard for some practices to move that direction. 

At Tarrytown Pharmacy Ching say they continue to make changes to keep employees safe. They’ve also implemented temperature checks before employees start their shifts. 

Ching says this will be even more crucial when they start doing COVID-19 testing in the coming weeks. The pharmacy wants to make sure it has enough protective gear and is looking into which test work best before staring. 

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