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Interview

Are Rural Pharmacies Prepared to Respond to Pandemics?


November 24, 2020

By Julie Gould

delesha carpenterStudy findings published online in Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy show that improved disaster preparedness training, updated disaster preparedness plans, and regular policy guidance from professional bodies, may help rural pharmacies better prepare for pandemics.  

“Few studies have documented rural community pharmacy disaster preparedness,” the study authors explained.  

To better understand why pharmacists need to update their disaster preparedness plans so they are better prepared for staffing issues and drug shortages, we spoke with lead author Delesha Carpenter, PhD, MSPH, associate professor and vice chair of the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina.  

What existing data led you and your co-investigators to conduct this research?

There weren’t any studies that had been published describing how rural community pharmacies have been affected by the pandemic. We wanted to address this gap by conducting this survey study. 

Please briefly describe your study and its findings. Were any of the outcomes particularly surprising?

We conducted a survey of rural pharmacists who were part of the Rural Research Alliance of Community Pharmacies (RURAL-CP), which includes 100 rural pharmacies across 5 southeastern states. We found that rural pharmacists were adapting to continue offering their services in a safe socially-distanced way. However, due to a lack of disaster preparedness training as well as having disaster preparedness plans that were not suidted for a pandemic, many did not feel well-prepared for the pandemic. In particular, a shortage of PPE, drug and product shortages, and inability to quickly find replacement staff when employees needed to quarantine posed challenges for pharmacists. Over 10% of pharmacists reported not being able to fill a prescription, including antibiotics, respiratory inhalers, and diabetes medications. Rural pharmacies experienced negative financial impacts due to not having storefronts open. 

What are the possible real-world applications of these findings in clinical practice?

We need to find a way to bring disaster preparedness training to rural pharmacists. We also need to help pharmacists update their disaster preparedness plans so they are better prepared for staffing issues and drug shortages. 

Do you and your co-investigators intend to expand upon this research?

Yes. We have applied for funding to support pharmacists with COVID-19 training, especially regarding how to prepare for offering a vaccination and vaccine hesitancy counseling. 

Is there anything else pertaining to your research and findings that you would like to add? 

Rural pharmacists are going over and above to continue offering their services in their communities. They need guidance and support from professional organizations to stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines so they can provide accurate information on treatments and infection precaution behaviors to the individuals they serve.

About Dr Carpenter

Delesha Carpenter, PhD, MSPH is an Associate Professor and Vice Chair of the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her educational background includes clinical training in respiratory therapy and public health. She has over ten years of experience working on patient-provider communication projects. She studies how pharmacists communicate about sensitive topics, such as opioid overdose and suicide. She is particularly interested in how community pharmacists can increase to health services in underserved rural areas. She has authored more than 110 peer-reviewed publications and has led more than a dozen research studies as a principal investigator. 

Reference:

Carpenter DM, Hastings T, Westrick S, et al. Rural community pharmacies’ preparedness for and responses to COVID-19 [published online October 21, 2020]. Res Social Adm Pharm. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sapharm.2020.10.008

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