While the holidays continue to bring family and friends together over the coming weeks, this time of year also typically heightens the potential exposure to respiratory infections, like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. Taking proactive measures to limit the spread of these viruses helps safeguard communities and keep people healthy throughout the holiday season.
Fortunately, pharmacies, physicians and health systems offer a wide range of products and services for patient care – from immunizations that guard against infection to rapid diagnostic tests that deliver important results to clinicians in minutes.
Through our robust distribution network and solutions capabilities, Cardinal Health is proud to work with these providers, enabling access to the right products at the right time to treat their patients with safe, quality care during respiratory season.
Vaccinations and point-of-care testing at the pharmacy
Focused on the importance of influenza vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) introduced National Influenza Vaccination Week in 2005, observed in December. Today, vaccinations are available for influenza, pneumonia, RSV and COVID-19; the CDC recommends people stay up to date on vaccinations for seasonal respiratory viruses.
Pharmacies now administer 60-70% of all flu vaccinations during the third and fourth quarter of the year, according to a 2023 study by IQVIA, and have administered more than 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines since they became available, according to the CDC.
In addition to distributing vaccines for respiratory illnesses, Cardinal Health provides services and support for pharmacies interested in offering vaccines to their patients.
Through our immunization specialized care center, we offer resources and guidance on compliance, marketing tools, an online resource center and additional certification training. Cardinal Health pharmacists also can provide expert assistance for obtaining collaborative practice agreements and setting up successful off-site community immunization programs.
If patients are unsure of which vaccines are appropriate for themselves and their families, healthcare providers, including pharmacists, can assist.
“Several of the vaccines offered during this respiratory illness season depend on the patient’s age and current health,” said Cheri Schmit, RPh, senior manager of clinical services at Cardinal Health. “A patient’s local pharmacist can help determine which vaccines are right for them and make a plan for when to receive them if multiple vaccines are needed.”
If patients believe they may have already contracted respiratory and seasonal illnesses, a local pharmacy may offer point-of-care testing for influenza, COVID-19, RSV and strep throat. Some pharmacists may even be able to prescribe treatment as well, depending on local regulations.
Beyond respiratory illness season, pharmacies can also access diagnostic tests for HIV, Hepatitis C and urinary tract infection (UTI). Cardinal Health pharmacy experts offer training for test administration, as well as forms, templates and documentation needed to establish and manage a point-of-care testing program. Year-round, 24/7 support is available through an online resource center.
Expert diagnostic products and solutions for the laboratory
While many patients see their doctors with respiratory-related symptoms during this time of year, not all patients are tested for viruses. A physician may choose to diagnose a patient after an evaluation and will determine if a test is needed, based on the patient’s symptoms and the physician’s clinical judgment.
“Having a medical professional administer a specific test that detects influenza, RSV, COVID-19 and strep throat allows patients to get diagnosed and treated more quickly,” says Emily Berlin, vice president of Laboratory Marketing and Aero-Med Commercial Sales and Operations at Cardinal Health.
Cardinal Health offers a wide range of rapid diagnostic test kits that deliver results to clinicians in minutes. Multiplex testing options have been added to customer offerings — which can test for multiple infections at the same time and speed up time to treatment, Berlin said. “We continuously evaluate respiratory trends and our customers’ needs to incorporate the latest testing options into our offerings to keep our customers equipped with their product needs.”
Through our lab kitting services, Cardinal Health can accommodate an organization’s unique specimen collection requirements and help streamline testing to address challenges, such as standardization and specimen integrity, which is critical for accurate test results.
Additionally, to help diagnostic laboratories and healthcare providers prepare for respiratory season in their communities, Cardinal Health has a Reserved Inventory Program, a unique offering that reserves an identified level of respiratory testing products to be available and locally stocked throughout the season. A premium service within the program, 90 PLUS, further mitigates the potential expense of expired products (caused by the volatility of respiratory season) by providing a minimum of 90 days dating on reserved inventory.
“The unpredictable nature of respiratory season makes it difficult for our Lab customers to accurately plan for their testing needs,” Berlin said. “Our Reserved Inventory Program provides access to the products our customers need, right when they need them, even if the season starts to ramp up quickly. Through our program’s advanced planning model, customers can make informed purchases and be prepared for the unexpected.”
Protect against respiratory viruses and prevent the spread of infections by:
- staying home when you’re feeling ill, even if symptoms are mild,
- wearing a well-fitted, high-quality mask in crowded indoor settings,
- increasing the frequency with which you wash your hands,
- reducing travel,
- consulting with a pharmacist for over-the-counter remedies to alleviate symptoms, and
- getting vaccinated.
“Taking good care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated also can help mitigate your risk for infection,” Schmit added. “But getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and others who may be at greater risk of infection.”
Use flexible spending accounts (FSAs)
Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) may be useful for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses such as over-the-counter medications and other healthcare products (vitamins, rehydration solutions with electrolytes, for example) that can help combat virus symptoms.
“An FSA is an excellent way to prepare and plan for healthcare-related expenses,” said Caitlin Thornton, Director of eCommerce for Cardinal Health at-Home, a leading provider of medical equipment and supplies to help patients manage their conditions from home.
Thornton is dedicated to FSA distribution for Cardinal Health at-Home’s customers. Cardinal Health at-Home directly supports and delivers many of the items covered by flexible spending accounts. FSAs offer financial flexibility and empower financial wellness, while helping you take control over your healthcare costs.
“Today, there are many resources to determine what you can use your eligible dollars on, which includes preventative items and over-the-counter medications for flu or cold symptoms,” Thornton added. “FSAs help our customers to meet the needs of the patient while allowing flexibility in how the consumer can pay for products.”
It’s a good time to check what is eligible for purchase, as many FSAs expire at the end of the year. Healthcare.gov provides resources and additional information regarding FSAs here. Individual plans should be reviewed before making a purchase to ensure reimbursement eligibility.