Pharmacy U

COVID-19. Pharmacists on the frontlines. Pavithra Ravinatarajan. “Being a relief pharmacist is never easy.”


by Pavithra Ravinatarajan RPh


As a relief pharmacist there has always been a struggle when walking into a new pharmacy. Whether it is understanding the workflow, the patients, or services that are offered. Each pharmacy is unique in what and how they offer things. However, during COVID there can be some new challenges. Both you and the pharmacy you are working at may know little to nothing about each other. Where have you last worked? What protective equipment did/do you use? What type of patient contact did you have? What we all do have in common is the importance of patient safety and patient care.


Recently when working a relief shift at a pharmacy I had come across a situation that is nothing out of the ordinary. A distraught parent had forgotten to call in medication for their son. He needed his medication urgently. He had used up the last dose of his epilepsy medication the previous night and both parents had missed coming by the pharmacy that day. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, they had called in after the last driver of the day had been sent. Fortunately, I was working with a pharmacy technician who was willing to do a curbside drop-off. But this isn’t always the case. There have been times that I have had to personally go after my shift was over to drop off medications. It’s not easy after an 8- or 10-hour shift of standing to run deliveries but we all have a hand in patient care. As a relief pharmacist it’s not your store or your bottom line, but they will always be your patient. At times like this that sentiment shines truer than ever.


When you don’t have a steady store to call your home and you aren’t the face patients are used to seeing it can be confusing and difficult to build a relationship. Pharmacies are looked to as a source of information, especially now that many patients aren’t able to see their doctors. My relief shifts during COVID have seen various patients virtually. From supporting the proper use of a device, over-the-counter recommendations and more. Pharmacies are beginning to adopt various platforms to ensure they are able to deliver appropriate patients care. As a relief pharmacist ensure you ask the pharmacy manager/owner what platforms they subscribe to, as well what the documentation requirements are for performing virtual care. I have had a lot of patients try to explain rashes, cuts, etc. over the phone with difficulty. The saying ‘a picture is a thousand words’ holds very true. The OPA has a great resource that helps outline how to provide virtual care.


Performing a medication review as a relief pharmacist can be difficult. Patients are not familiar with you and you may be asking questions the regular pharmacist would already know. Don’t shy away when you see these. This pandemic has created a gap for many patients. They may not be seeing their prescribers as often or may be using telehealth or other virtual care services that are not familiar with their medication history. As a relief pharmacist bringing up medication reviews with a patient is not easy, but I have found patients are more open during the current environment. A patient who had been diabetic required a change in their insulin therapy. They had previously had a very physically demanding position that provided regular exercise. However, with their job letting them go they no longer had the same physical activity and had also changed their eating habits staying at home. A few simple questions led to asking if they would be open to a medication review. The patient was pleasantly pleased, as they had not been feeling well and were avoiding going to see a doctor/clinic. In many cases you may be the only healthcare provider the patient sees in person.


Being a relief pharmacist is never easy. You are trying to fill the shoes of healthcare providers who personally know each and every one of their patients, but your role is no less important. Regardless of whether we are a staff, manager, owner or a relief pharmacist we all have patient safety and patient care at the forefront of our minds.


Pavithra Ravinatarajan RPh is the founder and principal consultant of Pavithra Consulting Inc