2020 is a year that we’ll never forget. As we reflect on the year, what stands out is the deep impact of our front-line workers and how COVID-19 truly tested our healthcare system. We realize that while the pandemic continues, the need to deliver quality care is more important than ever. We have learned an immense amount this year and have asked our pharmacy experts to share their predictions for the new year.
Here’s what they had to say for what to expect in 2021:
While there is rarely time to pause, the new year allows pharmacy teams to take time to reflect on what they have learned in 2020, such as what interim practices have contributed to better workflow or care models. Consider what should persist or continue beyond pandemic recovery including relationships built through collaboration, creative solutions, the ability to adapt quickly, and the resilience of the pharmacy team. Crisis can bring clarity to what and why things are important and guide future decisions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many pharmacies to develop unconventional methods for medication delivery as well as interim practice changes based on evolving USP standards and PPE and drug shortages. While we look forward to 2021 with cautious optimism, some things will begin to get back to business as usual including regulatory and accrediting bodies resuming inspections and surveys. These agencies will be looking for compliance with interim guidance issued from USP and FDA. To prepare, pharmacies will need to continually review their interim practices, assess for compliance and ensure documentation of rationale, timeframes, and training. Pharmacy construction projects may be resuming in 2021, introducing further change and hopefully a return to best practices in a more compliant compounding suite.
The beginning of 2021 will continue to have a major focus on COVID-19. Pharmacists will play a key role in vaccine distribution, storage, implementation and administration. In addition to the vaccines are the therapeutics that quickly received approval for treating COVID-19 in the year prior. Pharmacists will need to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these medications with increased utilization. With the emergence of COVID-19, many chronic disease states have received considerably less attention. Refocusing efforts to ensure quality patient care and compliance will be key. As pharmacist practice evolved rapidly during COVID-19 via telehealth, it may continue to play a large and ongoing role in the practice settings of many clinicians.
As the tsunami of COVID-19 hopefully ebbs throughout 2021, pharmacists and departments of pharmacy will need to realign their focus to walk back any dangerous practices accrued throughout this ordeal. My expectation is that groups will need to refocus on medication safety to ensure the stress and urgency of the pandemic have not unleashed or reinforced poor practices, particularly related to medication administration and storage. Departments will also need to reinforce good mental health practices and mindfulness with staff as the long-term stress of the past year continues to accumulate. Access to mindfulness training and mental health resources to manage stress and burnout will helpful steppingstones towards a healthy and productive 2021.
We’re entering an exciting time in our profession. As I reflect upon the ASHP 2020 Forecast, there are several components that will likely advance in the upcoming year. We approached this past year with approximately 50% of health systems reporting an ability to properly handle an unplanned, or disruptive event successfully. My guess is that if we sample those exact same health systems we’ll now find as a community, we’re more than capable of handling a disaster while delivering expert clinical care. We’ve proven our resilience and exceptional value to ourselves and others throughout this year as frequent changes in medical literature required our expertise in all areas from infectious disease to internal medicine.
As we approach 2021, I’m looking forward to further advancements in the areas of technician training and achievement; the ability of health systems to leverage the use of technology to improve services via telehealth, improved engagement of pharmacists within their communities at the local, state, and federal levels to grow our leadership and provider status the public so greatly needs, and finally the creation of more creative ways to address inefficiencies in our supply chain - which impact care at every level.
It should be no surprise that the first half of 2021, pharmacists around the world will plan a critical role in planning, distributing, storing, and administering the COVID-19 vaccine. The low storage temperature and batch allocation of some of the vaccines as well as the timing of the two doses will require meticulous planning and communication both inside and outside the pharmacies to ensure successful implementation. As we look forward to a “return to normal” in the second half of the year, pharmacists will likely be focused on post-pandemic business recovery. This may include more discipline in cost management and reexamining workflow. And clinically, pharmacists will likely return to the basics like antimicrobial stewardship and medication safety that may not have the attention they deserve during the pandemic.
Pharmacists in health systems will need to help their organizations deal with the COVID-19 crisis while they simultaneously assist in the recovery of lost business. Providing guidance on treatment of inpatients dealing with COVID-related health issues means pharmacists need to be at the forefront of evaluating data on which therapies have the most value while ensuring scarce medication resources are optimally allocated. It appears the COVID pandemic arc may be cresting in mid-2021, the ongoing opioid crisis has only worsened in 2020. Pharmacists working in all settings should be diligent in reducing opioid risks and helping organizations identify and refer patients with OUD to treatment facilities. Telehealth opens new doors for health systems and pharmacists to provide safe and accessible care to those with chronic conditions. Assessing patients that have been isolated and disconnected from medical care and ensuring access to care guidance, medications, and proper monitoring will help hospitals maintain relationships with patients and prevent avoidable readmissions.