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Do pharmacists have less time for patients than ever? - (10/19/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Everyone needs the services of a pharmacist at one time or another – even retired pharmacists. "Would I be able to speak with the pharmacist for a few minutes?" Joe, 71, asked the technician. He wanted to ask about the price of a new medication and whether his insurance would cover the cost. Otherwise, he would have to call his physician and ask if something else could be prescribed. "Wow," exclaimed the tech. "She is swamped right now. Can it wait a bit?" So, Joe took a seat and pulled out his phone to catch up on his emails. 

Meanwhile, Joe patiently watched while the pharmacist took several phone calls and administered 3 flu shots and 2 COVID boosters. Unfortunately, the couple sitting next to Joe was less understanding when waiting for their turn with the pharmacist. "How long does it take to count out 30 pills?" the wife asked her husband. "Remember old doc Berman?" the husband asked. "He'd see you come in the door and - zip, zip! - you were back out with your prescription in nothing flat!" 

Joe was aware that being a pharmacist looked easy to those in the peanut gallery. After all, he did have a couple of "helpers," and how difficult is it to take a few phone calls? But toward the final years of his career, the atmosphere started to change. Pharmacists have always been responsible for the safety and accuracy of hundreds of prescriptions every day. However, the pressure was on him to juggle more tasks during each shift. For example, flu shots were advertised as a walk-in, no appointment needed services. So even if Joe was working on a narcotics prescription, which required particularly close attention and extra paperwork, he had to attend to that patient's need for an immediate vaccine. Joe was mindful that the faster he worked, the greater the chance he would make an error. Therefore, Joe always kept his malpractice insurance up to date. But more importantly, he did not want to jeopardize a patient's life. 

And it wasn't just Joe who felt overworked. As a profession, pharmacists are working harder than ever. According to the 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, almost 70% of pharmacists reported that their workload rose within the past year. Over 90% who were surveyed said their workloads were "high" or "excessively high." And they are being scrutinized by their employers. Most large-chain pharmacies monitor every second of the pharmacist's day to make them more efficient and chug out more prescriptions. Instead, such actions have caused many pharmacists to feel like working at a fast-food joint instead of tending to their patients' medical needs and concerns – a role that took years of grueling study. No wonder the pharmacist can no longer stand around gabbing about your crabgrass when there are fewer minutes in every hour. 

Joe does keep in touch with other pharmacists who are still in practice. One recently told him, "Now, with this pandemic, the anti-vaxxers get unhinged if you even hint at giving them the COVID vaccine. So instead, they would rather have the horse-dewormer, ivermectin, despite that the dose and its effectiveness are unknown." 

The pharmacist's job is getting more complex each day. Make it easier on yourself, the patient, and the pharmacist. If you have questions, write them down so you can make the best use of everyone's time. Check your medications before you leave the pharmacy. Last of all, be patient. Go shopping. Answer your e-messages. And if you really need to talk with a pharmacist, know that one will get to you – because every patient is their priority.

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

 


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