Service Profile

A Shot in the Arm for Vaccination Services

As COVID-19 vaccines get rolling, an accreditation organization has launched a new immunization certification program for pharmacies, but the pandemic isn’t the only reason.

vaccine being given in an arm

Photo © DragonImages/depositphotos.com

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are rolling out nationwide and chances are your pharmacy is seeing an uptick in interest from your customers. Fortunately, there’s a new service to help DME pharmacies meet this need.

In response to the growing market demand for pharmacies to provide immunizations, Medicare-approved accreditation organization The Compliance Team Inc. (TCT; thecomplianceteam.org) has unveiled a new certification service: the Exemplary Provider Immunization Certification program, Including COVID-19. The certification covers both and adult and pediatric immunizations and puts an emphasis on COVID-19 vaccinations.

TCT’s Immunizations Certification, Including COVID-19 supports CDC’s COVID-19 requirements for both pharmacy network administrators as well as independent pharmacies. Certification reassures pharmacies’ patients, payers, and employees that their facilities and patient safety and quality standards have been verified and validated by a trusted and nationally recognized third party.

The certification is a stand-alone program, so a pharmacy does not need to be accredited by The Compliance Team for any other service. Once a pharmacy has completed the program, it will receive the Exemplary Provider designation, and the certification is valid for two years.

GROWING MARKET DEMAND

While COVID-19 might be the main driver for the new service, even before the pandemic, pharmacies were seeing an expansion in immunization services due to a reduction in the amount of well visits pediatricians were making, says Sandra C. Canally, RN, the founder and CEO of TCT.

“That left it up to the pharmacy to almost be the family immunizer,” she explains. So, one of the reasons that we created the certification was not only the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine was coming, but also because things were being done by pharmacists that were not previously done before.”

That, in turn, presented the need for pharmacists to show their communities that they had a third-party guarantee of safety and quality for these types of services.

Of course, this has been a change for pharmacists, which were handling immunizations mainly for adults for vaccinations for flu, shingles, pneumonia, and the like. If they did kids, it was mainly for those age 13 and higher. Most kids went to the pediatrician for immunizations.

“Because of what’s happened with COVID and waivers and the opening up of regulations around licenses and so forth, they decided that, ‘Okay, this was an opportunity for, if they’re already going to the corner pharmacy, why not expand that opportunity there?’” Canally explains.

Canally being a nurse says this is a good thing. While nurses might have typically done the actual administering of an immunization shot in the past, broadening the types of people makes sense. The actual technical steps involved in administering a vaccine are such that anybody with the proper training can do it. And that comes as good news during COVID-19, because it helps increase the pace of vaccine spread.

“It’s all about access,” she says. “… The most important thing is getting shots in the arms.”

EMPHASIZING REASSURANCE

That said, follow-through with the COVID-19 vaccine is just as important, Canally notes. We’ve heard a lot about the CDC’s vaccine partnerships with various major pharmacies immunizing in large numbers, but there is lots of “behind the scenes” administration and detail work that goes into each vaccination.

“Certainly before the shot goes in the arm, you’ve got the storage of the vaccine and all the things operationally that need to be in place,” she says. “Now, let’s say it’s three months from now, and we have millions of people that are immunized. Well, the other responsibility of an immunizer is to do quarterly reviews or audits to ensure policies and procedures have been followed.”

This process works to ensure that each person got a second dose when they were supposed to; that everything was recorded in terms of any adverse reaction and that it was reported to the proper channels; that everybody waited 15 minutes after the shot was given to ensure safety. And this is where the need for a third-party certification comes into play.

“These are all details and procedures that are difficult for the pharmacies, whether it be independent or big chains to do for themselves,” Canally says. “We can do that third-party verification and validation that they did everything right. Or that we found some gaps can advise them on issues to correct or areas that are in need of improvement.”

So, essentially this service is about reassurance. It reassures the pharmacy that it has a process and that it’s doing things right. It reassures the patient that they’re working with a reliable resource. It reassures the referring physicians that they have a rock-solid partner. It reassures any funding source that it can trust the services being billed. Moreover, it should reassure anyone feeling a little wobbly about a brand new vaccine.

“They’re already trusting the safety and quality of their local pharmacy because they’ve been business with the pharmacy for many years,” Canally says. “So that trust and relationship has already been established. Now they are taking it a step further, thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I trust the vaccine, but I feel good that our neighborhood pharmacy is doing it. … They checked all the boxes. They did everything to meet the CDC criteria.’”

OPERATIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Of course, providing vaccinations require some operational procedures and assets in place in order to ensure proper service. One such consideration is safe storage, which is important for the COVID-19 vaccination.

“One of the big things right out of the gate is vaccine handling and storage,” Canally says. “Each vaccine has its own manufacture guidelines as it relates to storage, with refrigeration, temperature control, and all of that.”

Others are procedures and patient communication. These are particularly important with vaccines such as those for COVID-19 which require boosters. That can require very specific administrative resources. Were patients given their follow-up date for their second shot on a card? What is the preferred communication method for reminders? Does the scheduling system have flexibility built-into it for the inevitable complications that crop up?

Another issue for the COVID-19 vaccination is the required 15-minute wait. Canally says that could be “operationally challenging” depending on a pharmacy’s facility.

“Do you have the space for that?” she asks. “Or are patients being told to stay in their car? Is there some timing procedure in place where you let them know that their time is up and it’s okay for them to leave?

“There’s a very low incidence of severe adverse reactions, but it can happen,” Canally reminds. “There are people with multiple medical conditions that could react badly to vaccines. So, the 15 minutes where you’re under some type of medical supervision is really important.”

NEW SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES

The Compliance Team’s Exemplary Provider Immunization Certification program, Including COVID-19 helps DME pharmacies tap into new service opportunities, Canally says. They can attach that certification to other vaccination and immunization angles.

“In becoming a hub for their community for immunization, what some of the pharmacies have done is they have also translated it into travel vaccines, for example,” she notes. “We’ve had some of our chains do that, where they cover all different information as it relates to the different countries.”

Obviously, if a client needs vaccinations before traveling having a certification on top of that service is going to raise a lot of consumer trust via a third-party validation of quality. Approaching new market angles with that in mind can be a real booster shot for the bottom line.

Immunization Certification

The Compliance Team’s Exemplary Provider Immunization Certification program, Including COVID-19 not only helps DME pharmacies show they support the CDC’s COVID-19 requirements for both pharmacy network administrators as well as independent pharmacies, but also helps them tap into new service opportunities.


For more information, visit www.thecomplianceteam.org or call (215) 654-9110.

This article originally appeared in the DME Pharmacy April 2021 issue of HME Business.

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