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Federally Qualified Health Centers faced unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. FQHCs struggled to keep enough patient visits on the books to survive in the early days before fighting to maintain staff levels as burnout threatened in the subsequent mass influx of vaccine-seeking patients.  

HRSA-funded centers have seen the number of patients served triple over the past 20 years, with almost 29 million patients seen in 2020 alone. The pandemic provided a wake-up call and the impetus needed to drive slow-to-start telemedicine options forward; health centers provided over 28.5 million virtual visits in 2020 — an approximately 6,000% jump over the previous year. 

However, challenges directly or indirectly posed by the pandemic will continue to affect FQHC pharmacists going forward. How will federally funded rural and community pharmacies meet these current and future challenges? 

COVID-19 woes that impacted FQHC pharmacies 

The majority of FQHC pharmacies faced a sudden and significant shift in demand for services due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This demand continued to evolve, raising new challenges on a continuing basis and contributing to stress levels across the workforce. 

Changing pharmacy demands and workflows 

In mid-March 2020, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and state lockdowns started, causing a panic among patients and increasing prescription demand by nearly 15%. A growing daily prescription volume is associated with increased prevalence of burnout, and drive-through windows (a preferred option during the pandemic) can contribute to burnout risk levels.  

Workforce recruitment and retention was and remains a serious issue for FQHC staff, including pharmacists. As FQHC pharmacies struggled to meet rising demands for prescriptions, changes in authorizations for 90-day fills, flexibility for “refill too soon” notifications, and new patterns of stockpiling, it became imperative to find ways to streamline workflows.  

The solution: 

Patient scheduling can reduce pressure on pharmacy staff and make it easier to organize changing pharmacy workflows for new prescriptions, refills, drive-through, and delivery requirements. 

As FQHC pharmacists also continue to be called on to devote time to vaccine clinics in FQHCs, automation can help facilitate faster completion of repetitive tasks and free pharmacists’ time for more pressing and hands-on issues...

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