Expanding public health outreach to support influenza immunization rates

Mitchell Rotholz, RPh, MBA: Randy, you have done a lot of work with the local health department. Do you have any advice for the audience on how to approach this?

Randy McDonough, PharmD, MS, BCGP, BCPS, FAPhA: I tell people they need to know you’re there, what you’re willing to do, and that you want to be part of the solution. Once the public health department saw this and saw our capabilities, they all got on board with it. Interestingly, we did pilot work where we did social determinants of health surveys of our patients and identified things that we didn’t realize were happening in our own patient group. Then we started talking about outreach and saying, “Can we train someone in our pharmacy to be a community health worker?”

We are now working with the state public health department and our local public health department who have money to train people to be community health workers. We’re jumping in with both feet saying, “We’ve got to have this.” As we expand the number of pharmacies we have and as we enter new communities, my general statement to all stakeholders is: We’re here for the community. We are here to provide solutions to problems you may have in the community. The more I can get people trained in my practice in non-traditional roles, like a community health worker, the better we can deal with these issues.

Mitchell Rotholz, RPh, MBA: Jeff, you have been active at the state level through the California Immunization Coalition, serving as president of that group. Is there any advice you can give our audience in terms of connecting at the state level, so that we’re not just showing up because there’s some low-hanging fruit and that we’re there as long-term partners?

Jeff Goad, PharmD, MPH: Yes, but Randy is right. It shows. You must attend the meetings. You should go to their conferences. You should contact them. You should join their local advisory groups. Most counties have an immunization coalition that feeds into a statewide one. You have to be there. They will sit around the table and say, “Why isn’t pharmacy doing this?” If pharmacy isn’t there to say, “Here’s what we do and here’s how we can help you,” then our voices are never heard. I agree: you have to show up. Once you’re there, you have to contribute. You can’t be a wallflower. You cannot take a defensive stance. You have to be positive and say, “I see your perception. Let’s see how we can work to change that. What would you like to see in your pharmacy? What would you like to see in pharmacists in your county or in your state?” Appears and then comes up with productive ideas.

Randy McDonough, PharmD, MS, BCGP, BCPS, FAPhA: Mitch, I have one thing to add. Neither the Emergency Management Agency nor the Department of Public Health knew what Towncrest Pharmacy was [in Iowa City] it was until I went to them and asked, “What are you doing about this whole response to COVID-19?” They said, “We’re controlling it.” I said, “You might control it with your group, but I’m in community pharmacy and all the community pharmacists I work with don’t know anything about what you’re doing. This is going to spread outside of hospitals, so what are you doing?’ They said, ‘We haven’t thought about that.’

They brought me to their meetings, which met every day for an hour to discuss the response and what was going on, and suddenly they began to realize that the information we had as pharmacists was something they were missing. We became a permanent member of this group, which led to us being one of the first pharmacies to get access to the Pfizer vaccine when it came out in December 2020, because they saw us as one of the solutions to help them to get the vaccine out to the people. It manifests and is permanent. They may not understand what you can provide to them and their organizations, but be there as a solution and then they will know that it is valuable to them.

Mitchell Rotholz, RPh, MBA: I have one thing [picked up] all the years of working in this field is that when they get to know us more, we don’t need to talk. They speak for us. One challenge is that they must view pharmacy as an extension of public health. We are not there to compete; we cooperate. That’s the important part during flu season that pharmacies play a major role in: consistency in messaging and overcoming some of the misinformation in the community. When they look to us as a way to deliver that information consistently across all health professions, when it’s working at its best, that’s a value that’s unbeatable. That’s the important part that we in community pharmacy and pharmacy across the spectrum have that influence.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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