Educate The Consumer

       Pharmacy patients sometimes have unreasonable expectations about what they deserve as customers and how long those services should take to perform.  But are we fueling the fire by not educating them properly? 

        Sometimes it amazes me that a patient can come into the pharmacy with a prescription to fill and complain about a 15 minute wait time.  We’ve conditioned community pharmacy customers into the idea that we simply take a product off a shelf and put it in a bag. 

         In reality, life behind the counter at your local pharmacy is a little more complicated that counting by fives.  There are lots of steps involved in the prescription filling process.  And the consumer is often unaware of those critical tasks. 

         Customer expectations can go way beyond simple prompt service.  Some patients think we can instantly contact their prescriber and get refill authorizations for them even if it is late in the day, on the weekend, or a holiday. 

         Some patients expect us to know what they want before they even ask for it.  Anticipating some needs may be possible, but it is the exception and not the rule. 

         And with the advent of the drive-thru feature at so many pharmacies, patients simply associate their pharmacy services with those provided by a burger joint.  Except we don’t sell fries, we sell medications that could cause serious harm to people under the wrong circumstances. 

         The general public simply doesn’t understand the dynamics in play in the world of pharmacy.  And even if they did, some simply wouldn’t care.  But that apathy shouldn’t stop us from attempting to educate the consumer. 

          I think part of the struggles we now face meeting the needs of our patients and customers is born out of a failure on our part to educate them properly.  We’ve allowed misconceptions to become their reference points for what we do. 

          No area exemplifies this fact better than the topic of wait times.  Patients can have unreasonable wait time expectations.  And we haven’t done enough to educate them about what we really do to fill those prescriptions. 

          And what about the issue of lack of refills?  I’ve given my fair share of emergency fills and tablet loans to patients who came in on Friday night with no valid prescription but an urgent need of a refill.  But some patients expect that from us and will ask for it month after month. 

         Even our vaccination service is a source of confusion for patients.  The way some companies market flu shot services implies there is zero wait, no paperwork, and an instant bump to the front of the line for anyone who is interested in a flu shot. 

         Yes, pharmacists can only explain things so many times to patients.  Sometimes they just won’t get the explanation for our prescription wait times.  But we should do more to inform consumers what we do for them.  

        It doesn’t help that some pharmacy chains have marketing campaigns that highlight a level of convenience that isn’t possible to achieve.  And at least one major chain came up with a “guarantee” regarding prescription wait times. 

       I believe that educating patients about what pharmacy employees do for them will help bridge the gap between their unreasonable expectations and the reality of our work.   Will it solve all conflicts between patients and pharmacists?  No, but it could help prevent some issues. 

        If we allow patients to expect 5 minute wait times and other unrealistic outcomes then that’s what they will expect from us.  We’ve got to tell them why 5 minutes isn’t normally a reasonable wait time. 

        Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians need to explain our work process more to patients.  We need to tell the consumer what we do exactly and why it is important.  We need to show them why we matter.  We need to educate them!

  The Redheaded Pharmacist

5 Comments to “Educate The Consumer”

  1. By Mike Koelzer, October 8, 2012 @ 9:14 am

    Well put. We have even let instant oil change shops do a better job with describing what they do (with the 20 point checks lists etc.)

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  2. By Pharmaciststeve, October 8, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

    Maybe part of our problem is that the typical walk up patient doesn’t understand that you have 100 Rxs in front of them.. the people are just not standing at the register.

    You drive up to a fast food place and the line at the drive up window is around building and out to the street… you get the idea that it is going to be a while.

    what makes me shake my head – when I am temping in retail … their policy is to “give” the pt an emergency “3 day supply”… that is .. unless it is a controlled substance… then they can do without… and we all know that certain control substances can cause very serious – if not lethal – withdrawal.. if abruptly withdrawn.

    BOTH/ALL medications have the same requirement of – requiring a Rx and/or authorized refills..

    As the saying goes… I have seen the enemy and it is us… we have created all these rules and exceptions to the rules… really… we basically have few rules… just ask any pt… they ask/demand… we jump…

    Their doctors office tells them… don’t call us for a refill … call your RPH… Most doc’s offices the first thing they say.. “.. if you have an emergency .. call 911 ”

    what would happen.. if we marked their bag with a stamp/sticker.. NO REFILLS.. and the tech tells the pt… NO REFILLS… call us 48-72 hrs Monday – Thur for refills… when they come dragging in their empty bottle outside of office hours… give them the TRUTH… don’t accommodate their laziness/forgetfulness..

    IMO… giving the pt a 3 day emergency fill … just enables their actions/in-actions ..so that there is little/no consequences. why should they change their behavior… the pharmacy staff .. will take care of them.

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  3. By Mike, October 8, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

    I once received a prescription on a particularly busy day. It was left on voicemail. 30 minutes later, the patient comes to drive through to pick it up. I apologize, but it’s not ready yet. Give me 30 minutes and I’ll have it ready for you. “what? You already had 30 minutes! Now you want 30 more?!”. Well not knowing when you would come in, it got put in the standard queue. But I can push it ahead knowing you want it quickly. “ok I’ll wait here then.”. No ma’am, we need to help others behind you while we fill. “but I’m waiting! No one else is waiting!”. There are people in store you can’t see. “ok I want you to write down everything you said and I want to speak to the store manager .”. I’d be more than happy to maam, but I think that time would be better spent actually filling your prescription.

    The last line is what got her. She wasn’t happy, but she realized her flaw. How do you educate when you are already so strapped for tome? More flyers? More signs to read? Unless it gets included in advertising, it won’t happen. How likely is it the chains doing the advertising are going to do this? And let’s face it, there are plenty of people who expect an oil change pretty fast.

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  4. By The Candid Pharmacist, October 9, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    Wait times are a constant thorn in the side of pharmacists. Chains measure them and patients always want their Rx NOW! Part of it is chain advertising, part of it is patient expectation, most of it is the pressure we put on ourselves.

    I have used a line of more than a few overly vocal wait time whiners in the past. When asked why it takes so long I have replied “I’m trying to make sure we don’t hurt you.” That usually gets their attention and I have actually received an apology or two for the rude behavior.

    Pharmacists need to set the expectations and I agree with you that a few minutes spent educating a patient that we do much more for them than ” just put pills in a vial ” when we fill their Rx is time well spent.

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  5. By Paula, October 12, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    Maybe a documentary of a Pharmacist life should be filmed too. LoL. Not all people can read your post but I believe if they can hear your thoughts and know your tasks behind the counter, they would get how not easy it is for pharmacist/pharmtech to deliver services immediately.

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