When you walk into Jim’s Pharmacy in Dadeville, Alabama, you will find all the staples people have come to know with a community pharmacy. Shelves lined with various goods for sale, a selection of over-the-counter medications and a pharmacist behind the counter waiting to fill your prescription.
A closer look, however, shows a much more sophisticated health care operation that is becoming more common in rural and underserved areas where the pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare provider.
Along with conventional pharmacy services, Jim’s offers medication adherence counseling, medication therapy management, compounding, health screenings, Medicare open enrollment assistance, vaccinations and immunizations.
Thanks to a new program by Harrison School of Pharmacy faculty member Dr. Salisa Westrick, titled “Enhancing Implementation of Immunization Practice Standards Among Independently Owned Community Pharmacies,” pharmacies like Jim’s across the country will be better prepared to handle those potentially life-saving immunizations.
“Programs like Dr. Westrick’s are very important in helping us improve the treatment for our patients and reduce diseases with something like an immunization,” said owner Jim Clanton, a member of the Harrison School of Pharmacy Class of 1985. “We have a large population of people that do not have easy access to a doctor and making the trip for something as easy as a flu shot can be burdensome at times. These kinds of programs help us as pharmacists be more clinical in nature and provide better care for our patients.”
The program is supported by nearly $1 million over five years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As part of the project, Westrick will work with Dr. David Ha, an infectious disease expert at the Keck Graduate Institute, and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Innovation Center to deliver a comprehensive program that seeks to improve pharmacy personnel knowledge related to immunization practice standards and reduce implementation barriers.
“Community pharmacists are increasingly accepted as immunization providers by patients, physicians and national organizations and continue to assist in the efforts to increase immunization rates,” said Westrick, Sterling Professor and department head in Health Outcomes Research and Policy. “As pharmacists become more engaged in immunization activities, it is critical for pharmacists to coordinate, collaborate and communicate with other healthcare providers and public health programs. Awareness of, as well as adherence to, the current standards and recommendations become greatly important.”
The program focuses on independent pharmacies, which make up nearly 40 percent of community pharmacies and are often located in population areas of 50,000 or less. The independent community pharmacies are a vital lifeline for people in these areas and providing access to vaccinations could be life-saving.
“This segment of community pharmacies oftentimes has limited organizational resources to help stay up-to-date regarding Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendations and immunization reporting practices,” said Westrick. “Our approach is to train pharmacy personnel, including pharmacists and technicians, to ensure successful implementation of immunization standards.”
With the project, Westrick and her team are charged with developing new and innovative education programs for pharmacists that ultimately improve vaccination processes and standards and potentially save lives through increased vaccination rates.
The program will deliver education to pharmacy personnel in an effort to fulfill four key objectives:
1. Awareness of and adherence to current Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations
2. Implementation of proper administration, storage and handling of vaccines
3. Implementation of immunization practice standards, including documentation of vaccines administered in the state or local immunization information system (IIS) and transfer of vaccination records to other health care providers
4. Development and implementation of plans to promote pandemic vaccination preparedness activities
“I have been working in the area of pharmacy-based immunization services since the early 2000s. I am proud of our profession — we have made great strides in the area of immunization services and it is evident that pharmacists play an integral role in public health,” said Westrick. “The training programs that will be developed will further equip pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with knowledge and skills to continue to provide the best care for their patients, to communicate with other healthcare providers and to serve as a key public health partner in the area of emergency preparedness and response.”
Working with the NCPA, the first year of the project includes a survey of community pharmacists regarding their current immunization practices and their participation in emergency preparedness responses at their local, state and federal levels. Once complete, the data will be used to create immunization training programs. Over the course of the project, training will be offered in online home study, live webinars, live sessions at NCPA meetings and continuing education articles.
By improving education and training in the immunization process, Westrick’s program can improve access to healthcare for those who need it most and make a difference in lives across the country.