In an interview at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) 2022 Total Store Expo, IQVIA’s Doug Long and Scott Biggs discussed how data from Australia can help predict the strength of the coming flu season. As a stronger season is expected this year, pharmacies will be essential for managing both COVID-19 and flu.
Q: Some experts are expecting a significantly stronger flu season than what we’ve seen in the past 2 years. Do you see this too, and how are pharmacies involved in controlling it?
Doug Long: We just looked at that.
Scott Biggs: Yes, the Australian flu season was an early predictor of what to expect in our flu seasons and the Australian flu season has been very strong this year. You know, we’ve seen that the last 2 flu seasons have been very weak. Masks have had an influence on that, I think, so now that everyone has the masks off, I think we need to anticipate that. Since we’re back in school, I think we should anticipate a much stronger flu season. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but we suspect we’re going to have a stronger flu season.
Q: How has the role of pharmacists in vaccination increased and what has this meant for vaccination coverage and the health care system in general?
Scott Biggs: I think it’s been great in the way their roles have increased, what it offers. You know, community pharmacy is so close to the individuals and so much more accessible than many doctors. So, you know, if you can get your flu vaccine, your COVID-19 vaccine, or other vaccines from your pharmacy, it’s much more convenient, it’s much more accessible. And it’s right there in the community where some doctors aren’t as accessible.
Doug Long: Speaking of which, pharmacies see patients 10 times more often than other healthcare providers, so they really took advantage of it. And some have made more use of it, such as CVS Health Hubs and Minute Clinics. Walgreens is investing heavily to bring back clinics. So they’re trying to make these healthcare destinations. And hypothetically, it is cheaper and more convenient for the patient.
Scott Biggs: I think the question will be, how do we get these pharmacies adequately compensated for the services they provide?
Q: Do you see this trend continuing for vaccination and other services?
Scott Biggs: I believe so. Yes, I think pharmacies – we said before that they are trusted, professional and easily accessible. And because they’re so close to the neighborhood and in the communities across the country, I think it’s just a place for them to go.
Doug Long: I mean, they stepped up. They stepped up during the flu, they really stepped up during COVID-19. So why not?
Q: With this expected to be an active flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, what can pharmacies expect for point-of-care testing and how can they cope with the growing demand for these services?
Scott Biggs: I think they should continue to strengthen their workforce. And it sounds like a regular workflow, but you’ll need to know how to work it into the workflow. But I know they will find a way to actually meet the occasion and meet the needs.
Q: What other trends or issues do you see in the coming years?
Scott Biggs: I think [with] biosimilars, we will see an increase in biosimilars that will bring cost savings to consumers.
Doug Long: The big one is Humira in January.
Scott Biggs: It loses exclusivity, you know. And Stella. So the number 1 and number 4 drugs lose their exclusivity and face biosimilar competition in the coming years. So it will be very interesting to watch.
Q: How can pharmacists look ahead and prepare for these trends?
Scott Biggs: I think they’re going to have to work really hard, we’ve talked about staffing being an issue, they’re going to have to make sure pharmacies are well staffed. And you know, [work on] how they can incorporate these extra services into their workflow so that they can really become that place where the consumer, the patient comes for those services they need, which they don’t get so easily through the primary care provider.
Doug Long: And that makes automation very important. You know, central filling. As you know, in many places, you fill these prescriptions overnight and ship them to the stores the next day, rather than relying on the pharmacists and technicians to do it. With this more automated process, we see more of that because more face-to-face interaction with the patients is needed.