HealthSeptember 04, 2018

When disasters happen, pharmacy responds

At the time of this writing, a record 52.2 inches of rain had fallen on the Big Island of Hawaii as it experienced its first hurricane since 1992. Hurricane Lane, a category 3 storm with 120 mph winds was expected to trigger mudslides and wreak havoc along its path, impacting the other Hawaiian Islands before it finally passed after five days. The good news is that pharmacy was already responding before the storm was over, ensuring patients were able to access medication and treatment in spite of the impending damage.

Author: Marsha K. Millonig, MBA, BPharm

Much has changed in pharmacy’s disaster response since Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in 2005. At that time, millions of dollars in monetary and pharmaceutical donations were distributed by a variety of nonprofit and response organizations, as well as manufacturers, wholesalers, and other private sector companies. But there was little coordination between them.

Without a central point of contact to coordinate collaboration between the pharmaceutical supply chain and the government, issues arose. Medical deliveries were held up at check points, while hundreds of phone calls between government officials and random contacts within individual companies asked many of the same questions. Resolving questions or tackling obstacles proved time-consuming and wasteful.

Preparedness philosophy

As a result of the Katrina experience, Rx Response was established by the trade associations composing the bio-pharmaceutical supply chain and the American Red Cross. It has grown since its inception and evolved into Healthcare Ready.

Healthcare Ready notes it “helps to strengthen healthcare supply chains through collaboration with public health and private sectors by addressing pressing issues before, during, and after disasters.”

It also serves as the convener of industry and government, helping to provide solutions to critical problems that impact patient health. Many best practices for healthcare preparedness and response have been developed from this effort. The group’s preparedness philosophy is centered on the need to strengthen healthcare systems vs. building contingencies that may or may not ever be needed. Its vision centers around building the resiliency of our communities to support health and create economic strength, so that if disaster strikes, quality of life returns to normal as fast as possible. Working together, we ensure that we are stronger than the next disaster.

Disaster fears and readiness

In June, Healthcare Ready released results of a survey that showed, for third consecutive year, Americans fear natural disasters more than terrorism, global pandemic, or cyber-attack combined, yet are poorly prepared for these disasters if and when they occur.

The survey included 1,127 adults, and it found the number who expressed concerns about natural disasters (33%) continues to exceed those worry about terrorist attacks (15%), cyber-attacks (8%), environmental disasters (5%), or disease outbreaks (13%).

In addition, the survey found:

  • Only 35% of Americans could list all their prescription details, including dosage, if they had to evacuate their homes without their medications or medical supplies, down from 38% in 2017
  • 25% of Americans reported they could only go 2-3 days without access to their medications or medical equipment before they began to experience negative health outcomes
  • More than half of Americans (53%) do not have any emergency preparation plans in place, yet 42% are concerned about an emergency happening
  • Americans are almost equally divided in their belief that a disaster could impact them in the next five years, with 51% perceiving it as very or somewhat likely, and 49% believing it is not very or not at all likely

Healthcare Ready’s resources can address these issues. I was reminded of this critical resource when the National Council of Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP) emailed an emergency response update on August 23 announcing that Healthcare Ready’s Rx Open was activated and engaged.

Rx Open is an interactive map that helps patients and providers find nearby open pharmacies in areas impacted by disaster.

In addition, NCPDP’s update provides links to tip sheets and Rx on the Run, which is a personalized wallet-sized card, available in both English and Spanish, for capturing prescription information.

Tips sheets are available on:

  • Preparing for a Natural Disaster
  • Staying Healthy During a Natural Disaster
  • Returning Home After a Natural Disaster

Ensuring our patients have access to their medications during a disaster is critical, and Healthcare Ready can help. If you or your colleagues want to connect with Healthcare Ready, or need assistance, contact [email protected] or 1-866-247-2694 or visit

Marsha K. Millonig, MBA, BPharm, is president and CEO of Catalyst Enterprises, LLC, and an Associate Fellow at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy’s Center for Leading Healthcare Change.

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