While there has been a “huge surge in customer traffic as everyone tries to get their prescriptions filled out of fear that they will become unavailable”, retail pharmacy assistant and Pharmacy Alliance group manager, Brianne Lowe says customers are also showing concern for pharmacy assistants and pharmacists.
She adds that despite the fear-induced panic buying and stockpiling there are those who are “looking out for their neighbours and other vulnerable members of society”. “We also have a lot of concerned customers who are worried about our safety also, which is nice to hear.”
Given the sudden increase in the purchasing of prescription medication and also “over-the-counter lines” Ms Lowe says that they “have had to make several changes to the way we serve our customer and run our business”.
Some of these changes include managing “out of stocks”, “restricting medications”, “providing no contact deliveries” and “social distancing”.
“Wholesales and manufacturers simply cannot get stock to us fast enough,” Ms Lowe says.
“Instead of taking customer orders for things like hand sanitiser, we have been asking customers to ‘like’ our Facebook page – this is the best way to communicate any changes in [services] and opening hours [too].”
With social distancing fast becoming the new norm, Ms Lowe explains they are now offering customers “no contact deliveries”.
“A number of pharmacies are now offering a ‘no contact’ delivery service where customers can phone the pharmacy, request goods and pay for them over the phone.
“We are also encouraging patients to leave scripts on file where possible, and we have also taken away pens, as we have been allowed to process scripts without a signature.”
“As it becomes increasingly difficult to access GP’s due to self-isolating, we have been encouraging our customers to use services like InstantScripts,” Ms Lowe continues.
“This program allows customers to request scripts from home and then they are emailed directly to the pharmacy.
“We are then also able to offer a no contact delivery service.”
In terms of ensuring customers remain separate while in the store, ‘x’ marks the spot for anyone entering the pharmacy.
“We have marked the floors with an ‘x’ to encourage customers to separate while lining up to pay.
“We are also encouraging payWave transactions where possible.”
Ms Lowe adds that larger pharmacies go as far as “triaging customers at the front door rather than allowing them to wonder the stores”.
As with other workplaces, protecting staff is paramount within pharmacy. “Staff have been segregated where possible and [we are] staggering break times. [We] are cleaning benches and counters every half hour and any staff members who do not feel well are being asked to stay home and isolate for 14 days.”
Ms Lowe adds that bad behaviour towards staff or other customers “will not be tolerated”.
Before coming into a pharmacy to fill your script and to make your purchase, Ms Lowe pleads that you consider how you’re feeling because if you’re feeling unwell the message is firm: “Please stay home!”
“We are staying here to help, so please stay home for us.”
Coping with the crisis is no doubt going to have ramifications on not only physical but mental health as well.
Ms Lowe’s message to fellow pharmacy assistants for staying healthy during the pandemic – mentally and physically?
“It’s really important to switch off when you get home.
“It is all we’re talking about at the moment so don’t go home and turn the news on. Go home and spend time with your family. Walk your dog, play [cards] with the kids and get plenty of rest.
“Remember to look after your physical health. It is really easy in high stress situations to reach for a chocolate bar or your fourth coffee for the day.
“Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water and getting your fruit and veg in too. And if you’re not taking an immune booster, start now!”
At the end of the day, while times are incredibly difficult at the moment, as Ms Lowe says, “this won’t go on forever”.
It might be a marathon rather than a sprint, but together we’ll all get through this.