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Why you SHOULDN'T have to wait at the pharmacy.

Alright. This one is really going to get me in trouble. I can already see it. I'm prepared. OK. Here goes. *deep breath*

We all know how annoying it is having to wait on pharmacists to take pills out of one bottle and put them in another, and it seems like it takes them way too long for some reason.

I could beat around the bush for 5 paragraphs getting to this point, but here it is. You shouldn't HAVE to wait at the pharmacy, with the exception of a few situations. And the reason you shouldn't have to wait, is because you should really just ...go home. Or wherever. Go have lunch. Go grocery shopping. Visit Mars. Just don't "wait for it" at the pharmacy, unless you have a good reason, i.e. the Rx is for a person who has just had surgery, you're leaving the ER, or you have a houseful of sick children and can't get back out to pick them up, whatever. These are all good reasons that you may need medication quickly (not an exhaustive list, obviously).


Don't. Fall. Into. the. Corporate. Trap.

Chain pharmacies have sold America on convenience. They've sold us with the promise of 15-minute or less wait times for prescriptions, drive thru pharmacy lanes, and over-the-top customer service guarantees.

What they don't want to tell you is that those promises are 100% for their benefit, not yours.

Here's why you should go home (or visit Mars) instead of "just waiting for it":

1. Because your health is more important than that. YOU are more important than that.

This isn't a burger you're picking up at McDonald's. It's medication. Even if your specific medication "isn't that big of a deal", wouldn't it BE a big deal if you accidentally got the WRONG medication? You may have only needed a short term antiflammatory - whoops, you were one of 20 people wanting their Rxs "as soon as possible" and you accidentally got a blood thinner you didn't need. Yep, that could kill you.

2. It's just not that urgent.

We're talking community pharmacy here, not high-acuity medicine. Yes, as already mentioned, there are understandable reasons to request an expedited Rx. "Just because" or "It's more convenient" are not among them. In case you didn't know, many pharmacy employees are forced to promise you these quick service times, knowing they often aren't safe or realistic.

3. It's actually dangerous.

One person who needs their Rx done quickly - ok, that's not a big deal as a pharmacist - provided there's nothing wrong with it. The issue comes when EVERYONE wants their Rx "as soon as you can have it". Now the pharmacy staff is scrambling to fill 15 different people's medications in under a minute apiece to beat the corporate-imposed clock.

4. It's not fair to other patients.

You may not know this, but even if you don't see anyone else anyyyyywhere near the pharmacy, there's still a line (always). It's called an invisible queue, because only the workers can see it. Their computer screen is filled with a list of people whose prescriptions are in process and set to be ready at a certain time. These may be people who dropped off a prescription this morning, or asked for a refill, or had their doctor send in a new prescription. They are carefully timed in the queue, and every time you ask to "wait for it", you're jumping line, whether you know it or not (and now you do!). Now the folks that have been waiting patiently for their turn, may wait even longer because 12 other people "needed theirs right away."

5. Prescriptions are not as simple as they look.

Reading hieroglyphics is a skill we learn early in pharmacy education, but there is much more than that to prescription interpretation. Your prescription may say something clear as day, but the pharmacist reading it may see further than meets the eye. Something that a layperson would accept as legitimate instructions may set off alarm bells in the eyes of a person who has studied medications for years, because doctors make deadly mistakes too. But if the pharmacist is in a rush to fill everyone's prescriptions, some errors are easy to overlook.

6. It's actually a trick to get your money.

Corporate pharmacies advertise their less-than-15-minute promises knowing full well they aren't consistently true, and it's not really to make your visit to the pharmacy more convenient. They think that if they can convince you that it's better to just stick around for a few minutes that you are more likely to pick up and buy items off the OTC and toiletry shelves while you're there. They also know that once 10 minutes of your time is down the tubes, you're more likely to continue sticking around than to leave and come back later, even if you already realize the 15 minute promise isn't happening. Plus, it makes them look competitive with other pharmacies and helps them fill more prescriptions in a shorter amount of time, thus making more $$$.

To a pharmacist, you're not a customer. You're a patient. You're not here to buy a product. You're here so that they can ensure you get the appropriate medication in a safe way. But these foolish promises of speedy "service" have chipped away at our ability to ensure that for you. It's a long story you can read about here if you want to know why our hands are tied and why your safety is being irresponsibly endangered to pad corporate profit margins.

So what can you do instead? What's the best way to make sure your prescriptions are carefully handled and thoroughly checked? The most important part is to choose your pharmacy carefully. If possible, find one where you can become familiar with the staff. Choose the pharmacy where the staff is already grabbing your medication as you walk to the counter (but are still confirming your identifying information for safety's sake!). Get to know your pharmacist and pharmacy technicians. It doesn't take much, just a friendly conversation each time you interact, and they'll likely remember you and go out of their way to help you with anything you need. And finally, when you drop off a prescription and the pharmacy staff asks, "when would you like to pick this up", be a smart and educated consumer and respond with a reasonable time (for truly non-urgent medications).

How to help yourself...and your pharmacist.

The short of it is, the pharmacy corporations aren't going to change their policies to protect you, so you have to do it yourself. Vote with your money and go to pharmacies that care about YOU. Even better, vote with your voice by visiting our Take Action page. And spread the word, because the more people that are in the know, the less people will be clamoring for instant Rxs, and the more the pharmacists and technicians will have time to slow down and actually evaluate your medications in the way they were extensively trained to do.

You wouldn't want your surgeon to rush through your procedure, or your accountant to rush through your taxes, so please, don't ask your pharmacist or technicians to rush with your medications.

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Pharmacist Anonymous
Pharmacist Anonymous
Mar 18, 2019

@rxboyd You are so correct. But if I can even make a small difference with a little education, maybe that can lead to a bigger difference.


It just does not work out this way in the long run. The amount of work demanded of the pharmacy team will not change because people are not waiting or have decided to come in tomorrow. Tomorrow becomes today and there is still too many prescriptions, ancillary tasks, and communication issues to offset corporate demands. Your counter will just equal corporate's counter, which will say you've got less of something in front of you, we will give you something more to do. Small town pharmacy will fall under the same trap.

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