4Front Pharmacy – Supporting Pharmacy Staff during Crisis

26th March 2020

Posted In: The Interview

Pharmacy training startup, 4Front Pharmacy, is offering its COVID-19 course free of charge to support pharmacists who are at the forefront of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Words: Ruth Doris

Pharmacist Rachel Dungan (pictured) and her co-founder, e-learning specialist David McLean, launched 4Front Pharmacy in 2019. They have decided to make their certified COVID-19 training available for free to the wider pharmacy community as their contribution to efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

The COVID-19 module is in four lessons – covering viruses and infection management with specific information on COVID-19 including protection of staff and patients – and takes around 60 to 90 minutes to complete with a quiz at the end to review.

Rachel is currently dispensing to fill in for a pharmacist in self-isolation. She explains that while staff in non-essential retail sectors are being laid off, these workers have transferable customer service skills and can be redeployed in pharmacy and supermarkets where there is unprecedented demand. By availing of 4Front Pharmacy’s free COVID-19 module, they can be upskilled quickly to work in a healthcare environment.

She believes that this crisis will highlight the essential role of the community pharmacist in providing expert advice and supplementing the work of GPs. She warns against misinformation on social media and encourages people to get their information from reliable sources.

The 4Front Pharmacy platform has over 1,000 premium users and more than 80 online courses covering a range of topics from recognising symptoms, information about medicines and advising customers on common ailments such as indigestion and colds.

Rachel advises customers who might be feeling stressed and concerned about their local pharmacy running out of medications to be patient. She explains that due to the increase in demand, similar to the food sector, there are delays. But she wants to reassure people that the pharmacy supply chain is “amazing.” Pharmacists are making sure that everyone has enough medicine but are not stockpiling. She recommends that those who have a regular prescription to plan ahead, give their GP time to write their prescription and get it to their pharmacy in advance.

Some pharmacies are providing delivery services to the elderly and those at risk. She stresses that people should not present in a pharmacy with respiratory symptoms to avoid infecting pharmacy staff and other customers. Instead, they should phone their pharmacy or their GP if they’re worried about COVID-19.

Rachel offers advice on how to educate the public about how they can prevent the spread of the virus. Hand hygiene is key, particularly when moving from one environment to another – “when going from your car into a pharmacy, work to home. If you don’t have access to a sink, sanitize your hands. Don’t wear outside shoes indoors. Keep your social distance in your workplace. Practise good hand hygiene and cough etiquette.”

Regularly wiping surfaces in the house, car, and workplace paying attention to door handles, switches, bathrooms, steering wheel will reduce the risk of transfer from touch. Avoid touching your face. However, while handshakes and hugs are off-limits, social distancing doesn’t mean not staying in contact with people. Talk by phone or via Skype and stay connected with real people. “This is not a three-day event. Those connections are very healthy for people.”

As a business owner, Rachel advises other employers to protect themselves and their employees by proactive action and clear and timely communication via Zoom or other virtual platforms. Other systems include staggered opening hours and break times to support social distancing between customers and team members and facilitate cleaning protocols while reducing the risk of errors.

She mentions the key ways that pharmacies can avoid transmission: having a dedicated person on the phone or till and having it cleaned before the next person takes over; using contactless payments where possible to avoid handling money or coming into contact with the customer when dispensing prescriptions.

Efforts are about minimising the risk but not completely eliminating it, she says. Thorough washing with soap and water is best. She warns against the “false sense of security” that comes with wearing gloves as bacteria from sweaty hands will come through a vinyl glove within 20 minutes. Instead, practice good hand hygiene and apply sanitising gel to clean dry hands.

As a female founder, she says it is incredibly important to have a diverse team at the counter to help customers. While the pharmacy staff is typically female, it seems from the data that more of those who are COVID-19 positive are men, she says.

As pharmacy customers are predominately female, it can be a little intimidating for men to come up to the counter past cosmetic stands. “Diversity is a two-way street. So it’s not just a gender balance, it’s a skill balance and a different lens balance.”

Pharmacy staff wishing to take the free ConoraVirus COVID-19 Training programme can register at learn.4frontpharmacy.ie.