Q & A with Richard Dang, Chair of the California Pharmacists Association COVID-19 Taskforce

When the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) convened its COVID-19 Taskforce, it tapped Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy Richard Dang to serve as chair. The taskforce provides recommendations and resources to pharmacy personnel across the state to aid their work as key members of the healthcare team on the frontlines of the pandemic. Here, he talks about the main priorities of the taskforce and how pharmacists are well positioned to help beat this national crisis.

What are CPhA’s specific goals for the taskforce and what is your charge as chair? Why did you decide to step up for this leadership role, and what are your first and next steps?

The California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) convened a COVID-19 Taskforce to provide recommendations and resources to the CPhA Board of Trustees, staff, and California pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, intern pharmacists, and all pharmacy personnel.

The primary mission of the taskforce will be to serve as a reliable resource and advocate during this crisis. The taskforce will accomplish its work in three primary areas: 1) advocacy on behalf of pharmacy personnel with state agencies and employers 2) communicating with the California Board of Pharmacy and 3) creating pharmacy-specific resources and recommendations. 

The first step is to advocate for and provide high-level recommendations for infection control precautions to protect pharmacy personnel during this crisis. This is a top priority in the face of shortages of personal protective equipment and considering the public accessibility of many pharmacies. The next steps will be to address pharmaceutical safety and access, scope of practice, and clinical updates. 

My charge as the chair is to assemble and oversee the composition and activity of the taskforce. Due to this period of uncertainty and rapid change, it is important to assemble a taskforce that can be adept, nimble, and responsive to provide relevant and timely recommendations. I stepped up to this leadership role because I see my colleagues working and sacrificing without protections, without acknowledgment, and without a voice. I am proud of CPhA for being a leader for our profession and I am honored to be working with an incredible group of experts and to speak on behalf of my colleagues who are sacrificing so much to ensure the health of our communities and patients. 

Who else is a member of the taskforce? 

The CPhA Taskforce is comprised of experts in infectious disease, public health, community pharmacy, health-systems pharmacy, and government affairs. The taskforce was convened by CPhA President Ken Thai and CEO Susan Bonilla, and in addition to myself, the members of the taskforce include Naomi Florea (Chief Pharmacy Officer at Choice Care Concierge Medicine), Jeff Goad (Professor and Chair at Chapman University), David Ha (Infectious Disease Pharmacist at Stanford Medicine), Virgina Herold (former Executive Officer of the California Board of Pharmacy), Linh Lee (Director of Health and Wellness/Pharmacy at Ralphs Grocery Pharmacy) and Rajan Vaidya (Director of Pharmacy Practice & Policy at CPhA).

What do you think the general public should know about the impact pharmacists are having in response to the COVID-19 situation in California and elsewhere?

Pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and intern pharmacists are frontline providers, in the community, pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals. Pharmacists are part of the healthcare team, working alongside the amazing physicians, nurses, and all other healthcare professionals, and are rising above and beyond the call of duty. Pharmacists are working tirelessly on the frontlines to provide access to essential services across the nation. In the face of a public health crisis, and while many businesses remain closed, pharmacies remain a crucial access point for patients to receive the expertise of a healthcare professional whom they know and trust. 

On April 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services authorized pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests. What does this mean for California pharmacists? How fast will this be implemented and how quickly will consumers begin to see a change? 
The recent announcement from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services authorizing licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests reflects a major acknowledgement of the important role that pharmacists play in public health planning and response to pandemics. This allows pharmacists to practice at the top of their license and to fulfill their duties as a healthcare provider. As the most accessible healthcare provider who is most often the primary point of contact for patients, pharmacists will be able to assist local, state, and federal governments as they continue to expand availability of testing to the public.
Once fully implemented, this means that a pharmacist will be able to evaluate patients and then send a lab order for COVID-19 testing. This would enhance social distancing measures by reducing the need of an individual to go to the hospital or to seek another medical provider for additional assessments. In addition, this would mean that pharmacists can participate in the collection of specimen at authorized testing centers and even, potentially, at the pharmacy once point-of-care tests are authorized by the FDA.

It remains to be seen how quickly this new guidance will be implemented; however, pharmacists currently play a role in monitoring drug-related laboratories for mediation therapy management. Pharmacists are also already administering a variety of point-of-care tests through fingersticks and oral pharyngeal or nasopharyngeal swabs for screening, monitoring, or identification of various conditions (such as diabetes or influenza). With this experience and clinical training, pharmacists stand ready to quickly adopt and implement this responsibility to increase access to COVID-19 testing.

What else would you like members of the California pharmacy profession (and the general public) to know about CPhA’s response to the coronavirus outbreak?

For more information about the CPhA response and actions, as well as information about COVID-19, please visit cpha.com/covid19. Individuals with questions or suggestions for the taskforce can contact me at rdang@usc.edu and Rajan Vaidya at rvaidya@cpha.com