Adapting an intern promotion to the pandemic

pandemic communication skills

An enterprising intern ditched her planned diabetes consultations to master pandemic communication skills.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) presented new challenges for Australians – among them community pharmacists.

During the initial hysteria, our shelves were stripped bare due to stockpiling of essential items. Rapidly changing regulations on multiple repeats of prescription medicines and over-the-counter (OTC) salbutamol inhalers left patients frustrated and confused. Some of us experienced unheard of levels of consumer aggression.

With the shift to prescriptions via email or fax, our workload increased; sorting and searching, back and forth communication with medical centres when one method inevitably failed, and consolidating paper prescription copies.

As the first point of contact in managing minor ailments, pharmacists have a strong public health ambassador role. During unprecedented uncertainty and stress, we supported our patients and provided evidence-based health advice from peer-reviewed studies and reports by government and international bodies such as the World Health Organization.

As an intern during the coronavirus peak period in March and April this year I had the added challenge of executing my public health program. But my planned 10-minute consultations on diabetes management would have contradicted physical distancing rules.

And while the chronic conditions of many of our patients don’t disappear at such a time, the overriding health concern was COVID-19.

Before the promotion, we received many questions from concerned consumers, such as:

  • How can I protect my family from contracting COVID-19?
  • Is it still safe to go grocery shopping?
  • Should I wear a mask in public?
  • If hand sanitiser is unavailable, how do I disinfect my hands?
  • How can I get my medicines supplied if I am in isolation?

To address these concerns, I adapted my public health promotion to ensure my colleagues and I were up to date with health recommendations, including educating consumers on the clinical features and transmission of COVID-19, risk factors for susceptibility to severe infection, and recommended actions if it was suspected.

For instance, anyone with mild respiratory symptoms should self-isolate as symptoms are often indistinguishable from the common cold or flu. We also promoted hand hygiene, social distancing and self-isolation.

Consumers were educated on the use of personal protective equipment, including how to wear masks properly. We also offered home delivery services and contactless pick-up of purchases.

I modified my promotion to limit contact, with consultations conducted over the dispensary counter from behind a plastic barrier. I produced brochures to summarise information for consumers while new information was disseminated to staff via WhatsApp.

Now, messaging and conferencing applications for staff training while maintaining physical distancing are under consideration. In future, we may email health information updates to consumers to reduce unnecessary pharmacy visits.

We continue to build rapport and support our community in getting through these tough times together.

Marlaina Weldon was an intern pharmacist at Chemist Warehouse in Neutral Bay, NSW, after completing a Masters of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney.