Samantha Brown, Director of Business Development at Mesmerize, discussed the impacts COVID-19 has had on their business in a recent interview with Bob Ehrlich, Chairman & CEO of DTC Perspectives. She shares how Mesmerize used this time to focus on expanding its point of care footprint and establishing new partnerships, while continuing to educate and engage consumers via Mesmerize’s vast network of essential businesses.
Bob Ehrlich: How has COVID-19 affected the point of care (POC) industry?
Samantha Brown: While COVID-19 affected in-office visits early on in the pandemic, we’ve already seen the vast majority of our specialty networks return to pre-COVID traffic levels or beyond. COVID-19 highlighted the need for innovative, dynamic solutions, like Mesmerize’s digital TV screens, at the point of care. Our digital TV screens allow us to continue delivering dynamic educational content to the offices within our network and serve as a powerful channel to activate on behalf of COVID-19 consumer education, disseminating trusted information by partners, such as the CDC and WHO. In order to maintain safe social distancing, many practices no longer allowed non-essential visits, including pharmaceutical reps, to their offices. Our digital network affords advertisers the ability to reach both patients and physicians with their brand’s messaging in a safe, efficient, and effective way. The addition of QR codes to our printed media allows for patients to scan a QR code on the physical materials within an office and interact with that same content digitally on their mobile device. The ability to access this content digitally allows patients to bring this information home with them and share it with their caregivers and/or loved ones.
The role of the pharmacist has also evolved dramatically as they continue to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. Local pharmacists see more patients on a daily basis than any other healthcare provider, and that’s proven to be particularly true in the wake of COVID-19, as pharmacists were licensed to administer COVID-19 tests, and now the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 highlighted the pharmacist’s role in connecting patients and customers with access to care, increasing awareness of the wide range of vaccines and immunizations pharmacists are able to administer, including COVID-19, as well as protection against HPV, Hepatitis, Flu, and more. At a time when pharmacists were seeing increasing foot traffic and patient visits, Mesmerize’s TV screens and other point of care tactics played a large role in educating consumers and encouraging them to speak with their pharmacist, a reliable source of counseling and information for general health and wellness concerns, as well as COVID-19.
Bob: It’s been impressive to see what Mesmerize has been able to accomplish this past year, despite COVID-19. You’ve been busy lately growing your network, most recently with partnerships with Benasource, ASP Cares, Gaudenzia, and GMHC. What do these partnerships mean to brands working with Mesmerize?
Samantha: Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, we made a conscious decision as an organization to use this time to double down our focus on network expansion and re-engaging new partnership opportunities. In 2019, we acquired a digital network of independent pharmacies and have been working to expand upon the existing network since. In 2020, we partnered with ASP Cares and Benasource, installing Mesmerize’s Digital TV screens in all ASP Cares U.S. locations and Benzer Pharmacy locations. Specialty pharmacies have unique expertise and experience treating a multitude of conditions including: HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Rheumatology, Oncology, Cardiovascular Disease, Gastroenterology, Addiction Management, and more, making them a critical venue for reaching patients with these conditions.
The team worked tirelessly to expand our digital network beyond the pharmacy, first with a partnership with Gaudenzia Addiction Treatment & Recovery Services, followed by a partnership with GMHC, the world’s first HIV/AIDS Services Organization (ASO). Our partnership with Gaudenzia allows us to provide best-in-class patient education across their drug and alcohol treatment, mental health, and HIV/AIDS programs, reaching nearly 20,000 individuals annually. Partnering with renowned organizations like Gaudenzia and GMHC, which are vital to improving the community’s health and helping them to achieve a better quality of life, helps Mesmerize fulfill its mission to connect individuals, families, and communities affected by HIV and other infectious disease and/or mental illness to accessible care, treatment, and education. Mesmerize is excited to work with our new partners to uplift those affected by these diseases and we look forward to continuing to work together to address the underlying causes of new diagnosis, combat stigma and discrimination, and promote healthy behaviors. Adding our digital TV screens to these locations allows us to effectively reach and connect with affected individuals and communities, and offers advertisers a unique opportunity to reach their target audiences at the places they are seeking care.
Bob: Clearly, 2020 was a very busy year for Mesmerize. What’s next in the pipeline?
Samantha: We continue to actively seek out opportunities to grow our pharmacy network and remain heavily involved with the HIV/AIDS community. 2021 growth will focus on expanding into additional Community-Based Organizations and AIDS Service Organizations, increasing our reach across these organizations that are vital to improving people’s health and helping them to achieve a better quality of life. We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline in terms of content, and our full-service digital signage studio is working around the clock to produce best-in-class patient education speaking to HIV/AIDS and infectious disease specifically, in addition to general health and wellness and other condition-specific content. After seeing great success building out our digital network of infectious disease offices, AIDS Service Organizations, and Community-Based Organizations, we look forward to rolling out our digital network in specialty doctors’ offices, aligning with client-demand and connecting patients and physicians with valuable information and resources speaking to a multitude of conditions, including: Respiratory/COPD, Rheumatology, Oncology, Gastroenterology, and more. We are very excited about our most recent partnership with Quest Diagnostics labs, reaching nearly 8.5 million monthly viewers at over 2,000 Quest Diagnostics sites nationwide. We’ve also begun working with major supermarket/grocery retailers, installing digital TV screens within their on-site pharmacies. 2020 was a busy year and we expect 2021 to be the same!
Bob: How is Mesmerize able to utilize its vast out-of-home (OOH) network at point of care, point-of-sale, transit, and other specialty areas to bring more value to clients?
Samantha: In addition to point of care media, Mesmerize has a vast network of transit and place-based media opportunities, serving as a one-stop shop for cross-channel advertising that allows our advertisers to reach consumers at multiple touchpoints along their out-of-home journey. Our larger OOH network affords advertisers the ability to reach consumers non-disruptively at every point throughout their daily lives, from their commute to and from the doctor’s office via our network of fixed-route and paratransit buses, to their visit to the pharmacy, grocery, or convenience store following their doctor’s office, ASO, or community-based organization visit. Mesmerize’s place-based opportunities ensure our advertisers are reaching their target audiences on days they are not visiting their healthcare practitioner, via advertising in cafes, coffee shops, financial service centers, laundromats, restaurants, and more. When stay-at-home orders were issued and businesses were forced to close as a result of COVID-19, Mesmerize’s point of care, transit, and financial service networks were deemed essential services and remained open for business, continuing to serve as vital touchpoints for reaching consumers.
About 29 million people in the United States rely on community-based organizations (CBOs), which provide care to low-income and uninsured patients, often living with infectious disease including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C . Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, community-based organizations have proved vital to the United States’ HIV prevention efforts, delivering the most effective HIV prevention strategies to those who need them the most and are at the greatest risk of infection . As the U.S. continues to battle COVID-19, community-based organizations are facing unprecedented demands to combat COVID-19 while continuing to deliver essential HIV prevention and treatment services .
to Kelsey Louie, GMHC, CEO:
“COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges for GMHC in ensuring that we could sustain our services for our clients during the pandemic. We pivoted many of our programs to remote delivery using video conferencing and implemented at-home HIV testing so these vital services could continue to be accessible to our communities. The new technologies that we have embraced during COVID-19 including telehealth and Mesmerize’s patient education platform, will continue to be vital parts of our programming well after the pandemic ends.”
shared case studies demonstrating the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations
at the 2020 United States Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA). Here are 5 ways COVID-19 affects
community-based organizations and their efforts to end the country’s HIV
1. Testing is the only way to know if you have HIV. If everyone knew their status, we could protect ourselves and each other, bringing us closer to ending the epidemic. As a result of COVID-19, however, community-based organizations were forced to think outside of the box to maintain client access to essential HIV prevention and care services including HIV, Hepatitis C (HCV) and STI testing.
Community-based organizations that have been providing long-standing and proven-effective HIV, HCV and STI testing to communities at risk have had to change their standard testing procedures to continue providing these vital services while also addressing COVID-19 . As a result of COVID-19, most CBOs were forced to change their traditional methods of care to continue in-person appointments while prioritizing the safety of their staff and clients and preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Changes to care included pre-screening prior to scheduling appointments, integrating HIV screening services into existing workflows, designating exam rooms to patients who are known to be at risk of COVID-19, and disinfecting all exams rooms after each appointment . While there are options for at-home HIV testing, STI testing requiring bloodwork must be done by a practitioner on-site. CBO staff are working hard to ensure that newly diagnosed patients are immediately linked to treatment and existing patients are adhering to their medications, while simultaneously working to prevent an already vulnerable population from getting COVID-19.
2. Community-based organizations are working to address and integrate COVID-19 with their existing HIV, Hepatitis, and STI care and prevention programs. Their deep community roots and relationships make them uniquely equipped to handle the transition from protecting vulnerable populations from infectious disease to include COVID-19 as well.
CBO staff have reported adding COVID-19
work to their scope of usual services and are calling for additional resources
to address emerging COVID-19 related needs among their clients . Most
organizations reported some level of involvement in COVID-19 related
activities, including educating clients about COVID-19 risks and protective
measures, conducting COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, and providing
counseling and care for clients with COVID-19 . Compared to the traditional doctor’s office,
community-based organizations have deep community roots as well as strong
expertise in addressing social supports such as mental and personal care within
the communities they serve . This
makes CBOs uniquely positioned to transition their staff’s expertise from
sexual health to general health and makes them well equipped to incorporate
questions pertaining to COVID-19 concerns including mental health and wellness,
social isolation and current events, into previously routine testing
appointments . Some organizations
still reported the need for additional staff training and educational materials
on COVID-19 to distribute to clients, which Mesmerize continues to provide to
these organizations in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) .
3. Community-based organizations have adopted and executed new measures and strategies to address COVID-19 related needs among their clients.
Many community-based organizations have adopted new strategies to
continue providing quality service to the communities they serve. New strategies include digitizing client
forms and medical records, as well as utilizing virtual care as an additional
means for providing health education and counseling . While the pace at which these organizations
were able to execute such new strategies is remarkable, many reported needing
additional resources to properly implement these strategies, including
technical assistance to integrate COVID-19 within HIV, HCV and STI services,
technology training, and structured clinical support for staff . Additionally, while technology has been able
to solve for some of the problems facing CBOs, there are many services these
organizations provide to the community that must be addressed in-person,
including STI testing, affordable housing, and meal services. In an effort to continue providing these
essential in-person services, CBOs have had to purchase additional PPE for
their staff, as well as hand sanitizer and masks for community distribution,
requiring significant investment from these organizations .
4. CBOs have a history of facing financial challenges, with many organizations having few or no financial reserves, running persistent operating deficits, and having a lack of access to capital for investment in resources and technology . Community based organizations have incurred immediate expenses connected to the COVID-19 epidemic .
Many community-based organizations have limited or no financial reserves, making them extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in expected revenue and cost levels . COVID-19 has resulted in immediate expenses for CBOs, including the implementation of safety measures, infrastructure enhancement, and changes to their standard provision of services . While many organizations were able to quickly and creatively implement new methods to continue providing quality HIV, HCV and STI care throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, these rapid enhancements require significant investment from CBOs, including investments in Electronic Health Records (EHR), computers, and hotspots . Many organizations are tapping into their funds amidst the cancelling of fundraising events . Even those with unrestricted funds are concerned about the long-term sustainability of implementing safety and procedural measures to address COVID-19 while continuing to provide foundational HIV and Hepatitis prevention and care services . CBOs present at USCHA also expressed concern over their ability to strategically separate funds so that money reserved for HIV and Hepatitis prevention and care is not spent fighting COVID-19 . Organizations are hopeful that the next round of government funding will provide valuable support for CBOs to continue providing these valuable services, while also offsetting some of the losses they’ve incurred fighting COVID-19, and better preparing them for the future.
5. While adopting new methods and strategies to simultaneously fight both the AIDS and COVID-19 epidemics has been costly, many CBOs believe these new practices are for the better of the organization and will be adopted long-term with lasting impact.
Many CBOs invested in technology
upgrades, provision of virtual services, and HIV/HVC/STI program adaptation to
continue providing essential services to their clients while simultaneously
navigating new measures in place to address COVID-19. While COVID-19 has created unprecedented and
numerous challenges to community-based organizations, The Stronger Together
Partnership (comprised of The Black AIDS Institute, San Francisco Community
Health Center and Latino Commission on AIDS) applauds these organizations for
their ability to “take on the challenges by implementing team approaches to
problem solving, embracing technological upgrades, and fostering innovation. Many leadership staff have identified lessons
learned from this pandemic and are doing their best to see this as an
opportunity to develop new strategies and expand their service portfolio” . Many organizations also reported that the new
strategies and measures put in place to respond to COVID-19 will prepare them
for emergency responses in the future, allowing them to better serve their
community and be prepared for whatever may impact them next.
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Pharmacists are getting increased recognition as they continue to serve on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. They are innovating quickly to offer accessible healthcare, counseling, and COVID-19 resources to their local communities. Local pharmacists see more patients on a daily basis than any other healthcare provider, and that’s particularly true in the wake of COVID-19 . Pharmacies play a critical role in providing patients and customers with access to care, products and services they need . TV screens and other point of care tactics installed within the pharmacy educate consumers and encourage them to speak with their pharmacist, a reliable source of counseling and information for general health and wellness concerns, as well as COVID-19 .
Amidst the current COVID-19 crisis, we’ve witnessed the pharmacist role evolve dramatically, administering COVID-19 testing onsite, filling and extending an influx of prescriptions, and continuing to provide expert care for regular patients and customers. As consumers rushed to pharmacies to stock up on medications and purchase essential household items as other retailers were ordered to close, pharmacists worked around the clock to increase availability of supplies and ensure their patients had what they needed when they needed it. As hospitals and doctors’ offices became overwhelmed with patients, insurance companies urged patients to turn to their pharmacist as a resource . Pharmacies are working hard to remain accessible, implementing CDC standards of cleanliness and social distancing within the store, while also expanding drive-through, curbside pickup and home delivery services where possible .
Upon issuing new guidance under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, authorizing licensed pharmacists to order and administer FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated: “Pharmacists play a vital role in delivering convenient access to important public health services and information .” With nearly 90% of Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy, the local pharmacist remains appealing to healthcare consumerism beyond COVID-19 . Many pharmacies offer specialty services such as blood pressure screenings, counseling on specific disease states, and medication management services . Most pharmacists are also licensed to administer a wide range of vaccines and immunizations to protect against HPV, Hepatitis, Flu, and more, offering healthcare marketers a valuable opportunity to raise brand awareness at the point of care. As soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is ready, NCPA (National Community Pharmacists Association) President, Brian Caswell, expects pharmacists to be the “first in line willing to immunize their patents and help the country get back to work .”
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