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Tracey Phillips and her team at Westport Village Pharmacy are ready for flu season

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The first months of my return to community pharmacy were a whirlwind of meeting new people, adjusting to the demands and the delights of owning a pharmacy, and adjusting to life on the frontlines of my profession.

 

by Tracey Phillips, pharmacist-owner, Westport Village Pharmacy, Westport, Ont.

 

For the last few months, I have been focused on flu season and preparing my team to implement Westport Village Pharmacy’s first flu program.

We are the only pharmacy in the area that offers this service, and frankly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t want to compromise any of our regular customer service. At the same time, I wanted to generate demand for the new service.

Fortunately, I was already certified to give flu injections from my days at Rexall. When pharmacists were given the legislative green light to give flu shots in Ontario, all our pharmacists became certified. As vice president of pharmacy with the company at the time, I didn’t feel as an executive and a pharmacy leader that I could tell others they needed to be injection-certified and not be certified myself.  Once certified, I wanted to put that new learning to good use, so on Sundays, I gave injections at my local Rexall pharmacy in Toronto. I’m glad I did.

When I arrived in Westport, I started giving injections for various medications and vaccines like Prolia, Zostavax and Gardasil through direct orders with our local physicians.  So, when we rolled out our flu program, I was very comfortable with injections.

Customers embraced the new service. They found it very convenient as evidenced by the more than 400 flu shots we administered in a community of 680 people. The first week the program launched, it was very hectic, but we managed the workflow well and quickly found our rhythm.

This wasn’t by chance. I met with staff ahead of time to plan how we would fit this new service efficiently and effectively into our daily operations. Things went like clockwork. A few times patients had to wait 10 or 15 minutes, but this was unusual. Most of the time, they could get their vaccine within minutes of arriving.

Our program included working closely and working well with local physicians. We created a system whereby we notified doctors when one of their patients had received a vaccine in the pharmacy. It was important information for them. In Ontario, the government offers doctors an incentive if a certain percentage of their patients gets a flu shot, even if that shot is not administered by the physician. So, collaboration was of mutual interest.

Our goal for the season was 300 flu shots, and we surpassed this in mid-November. We advertised the service in the local paper every week for two months and had signage inside and outside the store. We even had  “lawn signs” around town. People noticed. A lot of people came in for their flu shot who were just driving through town and glimpsed one of the signs.

Support from our local public health unit was also incredible. Their office is more than an hour’s drive away from the pharmacy, and unit staff would come in early so I could pick up vaccines and make the return drive back to open the store on time.

I’ll hope for, but won’t count on, significant growth in the number of people who come to us for a flu shot next season, but this is an important service for my community and we will continue to provide it.

Giving flu shots is also important to me in my role as pharmacist. It provides an opportunity – a personal, hands-on opportunity – to build relationships with local residents. This year I was able to meet a lot of new people. I was able to chat with them and put a human face to pharmacy in my community.