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MHS pharmacists & pharmacy techs’ dedication recognized this October

Pharmacist wearing mask, looking at bottle of medicine Air Force Airman 1st Class Gregory Maguire, a pharmacy technician with the 1st Special Operations Medical Support Squadron, processes a patient’s prescription at Hurlburt Field, Florida. (Photo by Air Force Airman 1st Class Hailey M. Ziegler.)

Across the nation, October serves as American Pharmacists month, a time to recognize the more than 1,800 pharmacists and 3,900 pharmacy technicians who make up the team of military, civilian, and contract pharmacy support to the Military Health System.

Military pharmacists and technicians support beneficiaries at home and abroad with essential services like prescription distribution, medication consultation, and disease management. They also support mission readiness before deployment and deliver critical care in operations around the world. Already responding a high demand signal prior to COVID-19, the pandemic presented new challenges.

“Our military pharmacy teams have demonstrated innovation and agility during the pandemic, delivering high-quality, uninterrupted service,” said Air Force Col. Markus Gmehlin, Defense Health Agency Pharmacy Operations Division acting chief.

Each year, the MHS delivers almost 120 million prescriptions through three points of service: a retail network of nearly 56,000 pharmacies, a centralized home delivery pharmacy, and almost 700 military medical treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies worldwide.

“They ramped up medication distribution, managed critical medication supplies, adapted to new pharmaceutical developments, and devised ingenious approaches to maintain safety of patients and staff alike,” he said.

These approaches included establishing curbside and drive-thru pharmacy services.

During this national emergency, military pharmacists have managed and delivered critical medications to service members and their families and mobilized to help civilian communities by providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency response. For example, Army Reserve soldiers deployed to support Atlantic City Field Medical Station in Atlantic City, New Jersey; as well as the deployment of the hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort.

“We are exceedingly proud of the team’s contributions and are certain that our pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will continue their exceptional support to the ongoing pandemic response and forthcoming vaccination operations,” Gmehlin said.

Dedication to the mission above and beyond their position descriptions is part of the legacy of military pharmacy. For example, seven pharmacy professionals have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor. Building on a history of delivering critical care, pharmacy personnel have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War. As our modern military pharmacy teams adapt to the needs of the force and various missions, the DoD pharmacy program continues to innovate for safety and efficiency.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has required MTF pharmacies to re-examine their basic processes and innovate ways to effectively deliver medications to beneficiaries,” said Gmehlin.”

Innovations include implementing ScriptCenter pharmacies and the Queue Anywhere downloadable application. The ScriptCenter is a secure locker where patients can pick up medications outside of a pharmacy lobby or at another convenient location on the installation. The DoD will deploy about 50 locations initially and then evaluate the method for further deployment, Gmehlin said.

The Queue Anywhere application will see an initial deployment to 150 sites. It allows patients to activate prescriptions at their military pharmacy via text message, and to receive notification via text once the prescription is filled and ready for pickup.

“This application is projected to result in a dramatic decrease in patient wait times and congestion in pharmacy waiting areas, promoting both convenience and social distancing,” Gmehlin said.

As the Pharmacy Operations Division looks to the future of DoD pharmacy with these new developments, its leadership recognizes the contributions of pharmacy teams around the world.

“Our pharmacy teams have done tremendous work taking care of our beneficiaries before and throughout the pandemic, and we continue to adapt and innovate to serve and protect our service members, retirees, and family members,” Gmehlin said.

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