Stop the spread

John Dowling, Trent Twomey and Gerard Benedet present at APP Online 2020.
John Dowling, Trent Twomey and Gerard Benedet present at APP Online 2020.

What are the most common ways that the coronavirus could be spread in pharmacies – and how to avoid them?

Speaking at the APP Online conference on the Gold Coast this week – which replaced the postponed APP conference – former Guild national president Kos Sclavos told delegates that it was important to be cautious when it comes to managing contagion in stores.

At a session devoted to the COVID-19 crisis, he outlined four key ways in which the novel coronavirus could be spread – and the top offender was cash.

Drawing on advice from the US, Mr Sclavos said that script processing in that country is different, but pharmacists and staff in Australia also need to be aware of ways where they could be exposed to contagion.

“What is the number-one risk in terms of exposure? It was cash,” he said. “The physical cash. In other sectors, they’re removing cash.”

Given pharmacy has many older customers and customers who are not tech-savvy or may prefer cash, this may not be practical, so pharmacy staff need to be careful, he said.

He said the second problem which “I should’ve known, probably, as a pharmacist, but I didn’t,” was the keyboard.

If the keyboard in a pharmacy is used by multiple people, who take cash and scripts from patients and hand cash and scripts back, keyboards may be a good place for the coronavirus to hide.

“We’re talking about COVID-19 where on shiny metallic surfaces it can last for 72 hours… on cardboard it can last for 12 hours. This is an amazingly contagious virus and we need to be aware of our processes.”

The phone was the third-biggest risk in the US followed by the counter, where “again regular wiping down by our staff whether it’s wipe down or soap” was important.

Guild Queensland branch president Trent Twomey said that he and his wife and business partner Georgina had taken the decision to rid schedule counters of “superfluous stuff” such as signing mats, pens and display units, and to wipe counters clean every hour on the hour.

He added that “soap and water is better than hand sanitiser” and that he has asked staff to use that instead, as hand sanitiser is “actually clinically inferior”.

He also said that while vaccinating pharmacists cannot implement the suggested 1.5m social distancing strategy, he intends to continue to vaccinate as normal.

“If we have a horrid influenza season on top of a COVID-19 crisis this is going to be far worse than we need to be,” he said.

Signing pens would also constitute a significant risk, he warned, saying that the requirement for signing PBS and RPBS prescriptions should also be removed.

He added that while this was his own opinion and not advice to members, “I’m not asking a patient to sign anything in any of my pharmacies” to minimise risk.

Trent Twomey also told delegates that he had heard “sobering” reports from economists which indicated that the digital shift in the sector and others would be rapidly sped up.

The digital transformation that was due to happen over the next six years is going to happen in the next six months, he said, as the general public moves to greater reliance on online shopping and shifting the general commerce of running a household online.

He warned that this sped-up shift would have significant consequences for foot traffic in not just the short term, but also as a long-term structural change in the way people react to pharmacies.

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