“Flu season.” Those words are mentioned every day on TV during the late summer and into the fall. Folks are talking about it in the cafe. Someone is out sick from work with “the flu.” Suddenly it seems like everyone is talking about the flu, knows someone who has it, or is concerned about getting it.
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine (inactivated, recombinant or nasal spray flu vaccines) with no preference expressed for any one vaccine. Most doctors and pharmacists would agree with that. How can you make the process easier for your pharmacy?
One of the first things that can be done is a check of records from last year. Information like the types of vaccines used, how many doses were ordered, and how many were actually used are key facets for making plans for this year. Hopefully, at this point, your pharmacy has vaccines (IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) in stock and ready to dispense. Know which vaccines (injection, nasal spray, recombinant, quadrivalent, cell-based) to recommend for which type of patient and make sure all staff is fully trained on those talking points as well.
Another way to make flu season easier is to have everyone ready to fill specific roles. For example, any staff member should know where forms are located and be prepared to distribute them to patients who ask about the flu vaccine. That way paperwork can be ready as soon as the patient makes an appointment or wants to receive the vaccine. Technicians can complete insurance processing, and in many states, a pharmacy intern can administer the vaccine. That allows the pharmacist to concentrate on patient counseling.
Advertising your pharmacy policies regarding flu shots within your location can go a long way toward making the process easier for staff and patients. For example, let everyone know that walk-ins are welcome or emphasize the no-waiting convenience of a pre-set 5-minute appointment. Since pharmacies are more often becoming the consumer’s choice for a flu vaccine, it is essential to streamline the process for both patients and staff. Using in-store signage is another way to specifically inform various higher-risk patients (seniors, children, pregnant women, and those with long-term health conditions) that the vaccine is vital for their health.
In any discussion of administering flu shots in a pharmacy setting, it is impossible to ignore the potential for increasing profitability. Just this one service is a 4 to 5 billion dollar per year business. In general, an insurance company will reimburse a pharmacy for the cost and administration of the vaccine. For the patient, the service is often more convenient and less costly than going to their primary care physician. For the pharmacy, it is a way to add to profit margins with minimal additional expenses. Often a patient will also purchase other items while they are in the store for a flu vaccine. This further promotes the convenience of your pharmacy while garnering additional new sales.
As a pharmacist, it is critical to know that some patients (for whatever reason) will not take a flu vaccine. Estimates suggest that somewhere between 5 and 20 percent of those who aren’t vaccinated can potentially contract the flu. Unfortunately, that means that they will often come into the pharmacy exhibiting flu-like symptoms and ask for advice. Know which OTC medications are recommended as safe and effective for treating the range of symptoms (a runny nose, fever, sore throat, sinus pain, and/or cough). It is also important to know when to urge that a patient seek more appropriate care from their primary care physician, urgent care center, or hospital emergency department.
The offer and availability of flu shots for your patients is an easy way to demonstrate the importance of an on-going patient/pharmacy relationship. It is also a way to create awareness and loyalty with the consumer. The convenience for the patient is, but it can also reinforce the idea of the different services that pharmacists perform. Having that connection with patients makes it more likely for them to continue as repeat customers.
Administering flu vaccines is an additional method of getting to know your patients. It certainly can be profitable as well. By preparing for flu season and having a methodology in place, flu season can be less stressful for both the patients and the pharmacy. That makes a positive difference all the way around.