6 Things Your Pharmacy Team Wishes you Knew
Tips on how to make your experiences with your pharmacy easier for you and the staff
Over the last five years, I have worked in three different retail pharmacy chains and have connections with people in hospital, independent, and other community pharmacies. While there are certainly differences between them all, we all deal with a lot of the same struggles- and it's not always corporate or our bosses. No, more frequently than we’d like to admit, it's the patients. Or, at least their reactions. As much as you get frustrated with us, there are some steps you can take to make your, and our, lives easier when you interact with a pharmacy.
1. Actually listen to the automated recording
When you call the pharmacy, before you speak to anyone, there's this fancy little recording that tells you important information or asks questions in order to redirect you to the proper channel. A lot of the time, this gives answers to frequently asked questions or things that most people need to know.
One of the big things that people demand to speak to the pharmacy staff for is our hours of operation. However, if you take 30 seconds out of your day to listen to the recording, your question has been answered! If the recording doesn't give the hours nearly right away, there will be an option for it. This is not something you need to speak to a team member for, and as a result you could be clogging the lines, wasting the members time, or even impact yourself with as you may have to sit on hold for a bit depending on the busyness of the pharmacy at that time.
When we seem a bit short with you about it, it's not necessarily your fault, or that we're mad at you specifically. On a typical day, from the phones alone, we have to answer that same question 10-50 times per team member. It gets really old very quickly, especially since we don't have time to answer the same question this often when the information is available if you simply listen to the recording… or look online.
Similarly, there is often the question of “are you open?” Firstly, if we were closed, we would not have even answered the phone. In all honesty, it wouldn't have rung in for us TO answer, as the automated system gives the prompt that we are, in fact, closed. It also then provides information on our store’s hours. So, asking us if we’re open is not only a huge waste of everyone's time, but is really really annoying. There may be no stupid questions, but if there were, this would be at the top of the list.
Also, if you listen to the recording, there's great information and options for other aspects of the pharmacy that you may need, such as refill requests, status check, and more. Due to the pandemic, there are prompts for information on covid, covid testing, or vaccinations- depending on the pharmacy and what they have available. Now, if you have other questions that weren't answered after listening, then by all means, call in. However, you really don't need to speak to a team member to get our operating hours. I promise.
2. Use the automated and online systems where possible
Please, for the love of all that is good, if you have access to the online systems (websites, phone apps, texting) or have the information needed for the automated phone system, PLEASE use it. Yes, sometimes it can be confusing or there are mistakes. If that happens, definitely speak to a staff member. But if you can order a refill or check the status online, on the app, on the phone, or receive a text/call when your scripts are ready, please do so.
Calling us 5-10 times a day to see if a script is ready isn't going to make the process any faster. In all actuality, it slows us down, because now we have to stop counting/processing/checking just to see if it's ready. If you have the ability to check on your own, that means we aren't being stopped hundreds of times a day to check the status, and continue to finish your prescription. We can actually get it done faster if you utilize these methods!
Again, if there is a problem with the system, or you don't have the information needed to check or call in on the automated system, absolutely talk to a team member. If you checked online and see an issue with the price (because yes, when you check with these methods you can get the price of your script beforehand!), or you're not sure of something, we can always look into it and either fix the problem or explain the difference.
Of course there are times and situations where it's best to speak to someone working in the pharmacy, but try and be considerate beforehand. If it's something you can check or do yourself, it helps us- and you- when you complete these simple things without us.
3. Understand that you’re not our only patient
While we are here to help you, and certainly are not going out of our way to make your wait longer or more difficult, understand that you're not the only person we’re trying to help. Most pharmacies cater to hundreds of people daily, so you may be able to imagine the kind of script counts we have. Of course we will spend the time needed to help you, whether it's fixing an insurance issue, explaining a new medication, and try to get your scripts completed in a timely manner. However, if you drop off 5 scripts and want to wait in store for them, you may have a little bit of a wait.
There could have been 1-25 people waiting ahead of you, even if you don't physically see them in store. They may have been called in by the doctor or another patient, or even walking around the store itself. Maybe you dropped off those medications at the same time as someone else, and while yours are maintenance medications that you still have three days left, the other was for an urgent antibiotic. In this case, theirs could very easily be done before yours. It's not because we want you specifically to wait. Simply, you're not our only patient, and the other person could be more urgent or have been waiting longer, or whatever other reason.
This also applies to the next point-
4. Don't tell us to “just slap a label on it”
Not only does this negate everything that we do to help you, but it also means you think that you're the only person in that moment who matters. Just because you don't see anyone else sitting in the waiting area doesn't mean that we are not busy. When we give you a wait time, there is a reason. It could be that we just got a huge influx of electronic prescriptions, or call ins, we had several drop offs before you who are in store, or maybe we're working on several vaccines. Telling us to just slap a label on it so you don't have to wait invalidates everything that we have to do in order to actually help you.
Just because this particular medication comes prepackaged (such as eye/ear drops, birth control, inhalers, vials, etc.) doesn't mean that we can just hand it out. We have to go through a specific process that has many steps to ensure patient safety. When typing up the medication is often where we find errors or discrepancies. Maybe the doctor wrote for the wrong strength, or the direction doesn't work with the typical dosage. Maybe the direction doesn't even make sense or the handwriting is illegible. All of these, and more, are reasons we have to reach out to the prescriber to verify that what we give you, how much, and how we tell you to take it, is correct and safe for you to use. If we just “slapped a label on it” without looking into any of this, you could be in serious, potentially deadly, trouble.
This process also includes billing insurance. This means that whatever billing issues there may be, we need to fix it before dispensing the medication to you. Maybe the medication prescribed only comes in brand, so your insurance won't cover it or is covered at an insanely high copay. At this point, we would reach out to the doctor to see if they can or will provide an alternative that will be cheaper for you, without negatively impacting your health. Depending on the doctor, this can take awhile. If we suspect it will, we try and let you know so that you're not waiting as long or you can go about your day until it's resolved. This is where we also find out if the insurance requires a prior authorization, if you have a deductible, or any other issue that may impact you when trying to fill the prescription.
This, however, takes time. If we just slapped a label on the medication to you and handed it out, I can almost guarantee that you would not like the bill you'd get later. Please, let us do our job without belittling everything we do for you behind the scenes.
5. Be specific in your medications
I know not everyone knows the exact name of every medication, or even every detail of the tablet/capsule taken. However, if you're trying to refill a script or inform us of a problem, there's not much we can do if you don't know specifically what it is you need.
I can't tell you the number of times I've had patients tell me they need “the little white pill,” “the round one,” or even “just fill everything that's due.” These types of phrases are constant, and help no one. If you don't know the full name of the medication, at least try to remember what it's for and what letter or sound it starts with. With thousands of different medications, there are hundreds of little white ones, hundreds of round ones, hundreds that are little white round ones. This broad description does not help us narrow it down, especially if you have more than three medications on file. If you're not specific and don't know, if I make a “best guess,” it's probably going to be wrong. There's just too many possibilities.
Likewise, if you tell me to fill everything that is due, you're going to run into some problems. Maybe you stopped a medication, had something replaced, changed a dosage, or simply don't need one. If you have more than three scripts on file, and all of them are technically due, the chance of filling one or more you don't need is high. That chance, along with the number you don't need, gets higher the more scripts are added to that list. If we fill them all and you don't need or want them, then that's time wasted for both us and you. Depending on the medication and what we had in stock, it could even mean that we had to order the medication for someone else, and now that's wasting their time, too.
Help us help you, and be more specific. Please.
6. Check your medications before you leave
This one is huge. Legally, once a medication leaves the pharmacy, it cannot be returned. That means if you picked up something that you didn't want, need, or take anymore, you can’t bring it back; you don't get a refund. Bingo, bango, that's it. I’m sorry, but there's nothing we can do about that. It's the law (at least, in the USA). We can’t be risking our personal licenses or that of the pharmacy itself because you didn't double check which medications you were picking up.
Now, there are a few exceptions to this. If there was a mistake on the pharmacys behalf, such as dispensing a strength different than the label, or if the patient has a known specific manufacturer on file and a different one was filled, that's different. That is a mistake that needs to be corrected, and in order to do so, the incorrect medication must be returned. However, these incidents are rare- or at least should be. Mistakes do happen, but we have a lot of checks in place to do everything we can to prevent them.
This is also why it's important to check before leaving the pharmacy. If you know what your medication is supposed to look like for your specific manufacturer request, check to make sure that's what's in the bottle. If you do so while you're there, we can fix it right away and save you the hassle of calling, and returning. It also means that the medication dispensed doesn't have to go to waste. If you had taken the wrong brand home, and brought it back, the medication that left the pharmacy cannot be dispensed to anyone else. It could still be perfectly fine, but that's not something that we can guarantee after leaving the premises. As such, it goes to waste.
Checking the medication before you leave can save you time, hassle, money, gas, and can save medication from needlessly going to waste. Please check what you're getting before you leave the pharmacy- and preferably before you pay for it.
There are other things you can do to make the process smoother, but these are the most common mishaps, and the easiest for you to correct or prevent. Just doing these simple things will go a long way in helping your pharmacy staff, the other patients, and most importantly to you, yourself. This is especially important during the current pandemic, as your local pharmacies are overwhelmed with large amounts of scripts for those who are sick on top of the normal amount, vaccinations for day to day immunizations as well as covid 19, hourly sanitation schedules at minimum, long lines, endless phone calls, and much more.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your consideration, cooperation, patience, and understanding.
Stay safe, friends.
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