Health Care and Ebola

October 24, 2014 – Rx Response is composed of members that span the bio-pharmaceutical supply chain, and so any kind of public health emergency probably will involve most, if not all, of the components of that supply chain. In the case of emerging infectious disease, there are biotech and pharmaceutical manufacturers doing the research and testing for innovative new treatments and vaccines, and producing the approved products that are used for current treatment or prevention; distributors ensuring the efficient storage, delivery, and inventory management of those products; and pharmacies and other healthcare facilities providing the clinical administration and dispensing of medicines and biologics. All of these components must be functioning in order to ensure that patients maintain access to care.

In the case of recent concern about Ebola, concomitant with the extremely low risk of exposure in the US, the role of the community pharmacist as an educated, trusted healthcare resource comes to the forefront. As there is no vaccine or antiviral treatment, the pharmacist has a response role that includes arming the public with accurate informationwarning of counterfeit claims of Ebola “cures”, and explaining the true risk of exposure while, perhaps, recommending interventions to prevent diseases that are far more likely.

But the clinical care that a pharmacist provides requires a lot more than just the front-line pharmacist doing the research that is necessary to become an advisor on the topic of one specific disease.  There are interconnected links of business continuity that must be maintained all the way up the bio-pharmaceutical supply chain in order to ensure that the health of the country is maintained. No matter the incident, not only does the healthcare community need to provide care for those directly impacted, but also needs to maintain care for those who are ill for other reasons – reasons which may be due to acute or chronic illnesses. Recognition of this fact is why the entire healthcare sector is recognized as part of the critical infrastructure of the nation. Because of the critical nature of the bio-pharmaceutical supply chain and pharmacy care services, it is prudent to have a plan for the low-probability, potentially high-consequence event of an exposure to a symptomatic Ebola patient within the pharmacy or other workplace. To assist community pharmacists, and store owners and managers, Rx Response has developed checklists that can be used to help educate pharmacy and non-pharmacy staff, as well as point to some management considerations that should be considered prior to an actual event. No matter where a company or individual sits within the healthcare system, they can be doing several, not so obvious, things to help ensure that care for all patients aren’t interrupted.

  •  Educate employees on the relative risks and protective measures that are available to them.
  •  Ensure appropriate protection and disinfection supplies are on hand.
  •  Review travel plans for employees, and make sure that if employees will be traveling to an area of risk that they are healthy and trained for the potential situation.
  •  Review HR policies regarding sick leave in the case of an employee who has to undergo quarantine or post-exposure health monitoring.
  •  Review insurance coverage (e.g., disability, workman’s compensation, business interruption) for potential workplace exposures or subsequent illness.

Taking these steps will not only help the healthcare facility be prepared for Ebola, but also for other illnesses, such as influenza, which are much more likely to impact employee health and productivity.