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Why Airports Need Pharmacies

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I open my eyes at 3 a.m. and notice they feel particularly crusty. I dread waking up in an hour when my alarm is set to go off at 4 a.m. for my early flight out of LaGuardia. I convince myself to rest and eventually drag myself to the bathroom to get ready for the day. It is then that I notice that extra-crusty feeling of my eyes was secondary to significant redness and conjunctival injection. Both eyes are itchy and in a lot of pain and, whoa, they are really red.

“Oh, no…” I think to myself. This discovery couldn’t be more untimely given that I have 20 minutes until my cab arrives and then will have to sit in the airport, which is unequipped with a pharmacy, for several hours before boarding my four-hour flight. Not to mention my destination is to a place where I will be filming educational lecture videos! I frantically start searching the internet to see if airports with pharmacies exist. To my surprise, there are actually a few airports that have opened pharmacies in one or more of their terminals, though LaGuardia is not one of them. I also found it very interesting that these pharmacies were staffed with NPs or PAs so travelers could be seen by these practitioners if they needed an urgent prescription.

This sounds pretty magical to me. I really felt I needed a prescription for polytrim immediately. Maybe pink eye isn’t the world’s worst emergency, but given that I was flying to a place that would be recording and using an image of me, I didn’t want to be photographed with bright red eyes. Moreover, pink eye is relatively contagious, and I didn’t want to infect those around me. I would have definitely been amenable to seeing an NP or a PA and having them take a look at my eyes. I am confident they would have reached the same conclusion and given me that desired prescription.

Instead, I had to reach my primary care doctor (sidebar: do any medical residents even have a primary care physician? When is the last time you saw a doctor? When is the last time you were able to go for blood work? That opens an entirely separate issue, so back to the main one here). I left a message and did not hear back promptly. I suffered on hold for a whole hour. Finally, I was able to get a hold of the doctor and convince her that it is definitely not allergic conjunctivitis since it didn’t respond to antihistamines and the goop is actually vitriol. She calls in the prescription…to a pharmacy inconveniently located 20+ miles from where I will be staying.

If only there had been a pharmacy in the airport! I think to myself that those individuals who travel a lot more than I do would probably appreciate the ability to pick up their medications while they’re spending hours at the airport roaming around, essentially accomplishing little to nothing unless there is free Wi-Fi. Additionally, a lot of people get sick when they’re traveling. I remember when I boarded a long flight to Italy and knew I had strep throat even before landing and then had to struggle to find a pharmacy. If only there had been a pharmacy in the airport before leaving or when I arrived that would have allowed me to undergo examination and rapid strep testing such that I could obtain the proper medication.

Another benefit of having a pharmacy at an airport is that a traveler that forgot to bring their medication for hypertension or heart disease would be able to obtain a small, emergency supply. This would prevent in-flight emergencies and improve overall health and wellness both in airports and in the sky.

Cherilyn Cecchini, MD is a pediatrician and a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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