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Medications can be vital to staying well and maintaining good health. Getting medications safely can be a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for people at higher risk. Some of these higher risk groups include individuals with chronic lung disease, serious heart conditions, are immune compromised or have diabetes, to name a few.
Nicholas Arsenault, MSN, RN, CNL, CCM, CDP, a transitional care nurse with Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, offers a few simple steps people can take to empower and protect themselves during these times:
Consider getting medications delivered to the home. Individuals can talk with their pharmacy to see if they offer home delivery. Many larger chain pharmacies provide this service, but some smaller, local pharmacies also offer it.
Look at insurance pharmacy benefits. Some insurance and prescription drug plans, either commercial or Medicare, offer some savings for using a home delivery medication program.
If medication delivery from a pharmacy is not possible, talk with a family member, caregiver, friend or trusted neighbor to see if they would be able to pick up the medication. The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows the pharmacist to give the filled prescription to a relative or friend. They could drop them off at the door while maintaining physical distancing. Provide them with a phone number so they can call when they have dropped off the medication.
To get medication filled or to check on the status of it, contact the pharmacy by phone or through an online portal. Talk with the local pharmacy team to find out the easiest, safest and best way to address these needs.
Be mindful of how much medication remains in the prescription. A good rule of thumb is to ensure there is 7-10 days’ worth to prevent running out. When that 7-10-day window approaches, notify the pharmacist that a refill is needed to allow enough time to obtain the order from the healthcare provider.
Many insurance plans are relaxing refill limitations so larger quantities of medications may now be allowed. It may be possible to get a 90-day supply, which is appropriate if the medications are for long-term condition management. Having a 90-day supply can also reduce the number of pharmacy visits and there may also be a cost savings.
People should talk with their healthcare provider and develop a plan to ensure the medication will continue to be refilled. Some providers may agree to refill the medication, but others may want to “see” the person first. It is possible to have a telehealth visit by means of a video call using a smartphone, tablet or computer. They can also do a visit over the telephone to minimize having to go to the provider’s office.
If it is necessary to go to the pharmacy in person, take essential steps to remain protected. Some pharmacies may offer special hours for seniors over 65 or individuals with health conditions that place them at higher risk who must visit in person. Some guidelines are: Maintain 6 feet of space between others; Wear a face mask or covering that covers the nose and mouth; Follow the arrows in the aisles.
Have the method of payment ready to minimize having to touch multiple items and reduce contamination. Consider using a credit or debit card instead of cash; liberally use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol after touching any surfaces, credit card terminals, pens or other objects before getting in the car. Wipe down high-touch surfaces with cleaning/sanitizing wipes once in the vehicle including the steering wheel, door handles, keys, cellphone and window controls; Hand wash thoroughly for 20 seconds upon returning home.
When feeling sick, stay home to reduce the chance of infecting someone else. People should contact their healthcare provider for guidance and to determine what kind of visit is best. If it is an emergency, if possible, call ahead and wear a mask.
Job loss, lack of insurance and new expenses resulting from COVID-19 have presented financial challenges to affording medications. People who use Medicare and who qualify based on income can apply for Extra Help through Social Security or at the National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp.
When in doubt about getting medications and reducing potential exposure to COVID-19, individuals should contact their healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Vital information and important resources for caregivers, families and older adults is available through Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging, a not for profit member of Hartford HealthCare Senior Services. Call Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging at 1-877-424-4641 or visit http://hhccenterforhealthyaging.org.