Why does it take so long to fill a prescription?

Ah, the million dollar question. I can’t even count how many times I hear a patient ask me that question. Let’s stop for a second and go over that question. Why does it take you however long it takes in your line of work? If you say you can do it instantly, then stop and ask yourself what happens when you have to work with a team and technology. If you still say you can get it done in seconds, then I would love for you to share your story as to how you can be so efficient working with variables outside of your control.

Human beings are not robots, we cannot possibly be more efficient or faster than something mechanical that’s created specifically to accomplish a task it is designed to be efficient and fast at.

But I digress, so let’s get back to the issue at hand. People do not see all the other things that are going on while we are filling their prescription. And that can be answered really with just one statement. Because that person is only focused on themselves and their prescription. I don’t blame them, that’s just how human nature is.

“I just want my prescription, why does it matter to me what the other people are waiting for or dropping off. My time is valuable and my prescription should be done immediately.” 

That’s the general mentality of patients dropping off prescriptions. So much so sometimes they are surprised when I tell them that there are X many patients ahead of them.

The retail pharmacy business model works like this. When a patient comes to drop off a prescription, we ask them their information so we can pull up their medication profile. If they have no profile with us, we generate a new one, which takes extra time. Then we take their prescription and ask them if they are waiting or coming back. Here I believe is a potential point of improvement. When we ask if they are waiting for it, we are asking if they plan to physically wait for the presctiption at the store. What the patients are hearing however, is more to the tune of yea they will wait for it while they go accomplish other tasks such as shopping or going home to cook a meal. We as pharmacy staff cannot put in any other option than waiting or coming back so we give the patient the benefit of the doubt and assume they are actually waiting. When enough patients do this, wait times start piling up.

But wait, we’ve only gotten to step two of filling a prescription. There are four more to go. The next step is to type up the prescription and submit it to the insurance companies. Too often patients assume that we are the insurance or we directly control the copays for their medicines. The reality is that we have to type up the prescription and verify all the information is correct before we can submit the claim to be billed. Sometimes the insurance adjudicates the claim in seconds, and sometimes it doesn’t adjudicate at all. When the insurance doesn’t want to pay for it, we enter the dreaded prior authorization or drug not covered realm. This means the insurance believes the patient does not need to be on this therapy, and they prefer an alternative therapy that’s usually cheaper. It also requires extra time since in that situation, we must call the insurance and/or doctor to try to remedy the situation. We rely on internet connectivity and technology to aid us with this. It’s not the same as the doctors office calling the insurance to find out the copay for a procedure. We have to ensure all the information is correct because we are not directly administering the medicine to the patient unlike the doctor performing the procedure so there is a lot more that must be monitored and regulated.

Once adjudication is complete, and we get a paid claim, we can finally start filling the prescription. Now your prescription joins the stack of prescriptions that we are already working on. Most of the time we can actually fill your prescription within 30 seconds at this step. However, we’ve already spent a few minutes working just on your prescription to get thus far. Combine that with all the other patients also expecting to get prescriptions and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.

Almost done now, we get to the step where the pharmacist has to verify your prescription. I know most people here are thinking, we’ll wait a minute… Why didn’t this happen while they were typing up my prescription. Well technically, it did. However, we have to double check ourselves all the time. We do this because we are the last line of defense before you get the medication and we want to ensure you don’t get something that might hurt you. Here is where we take a closer look at the medication and dosage and try to ensure that not only the prescription was typed in and filed correctly, but also therapeutically appropriate. We also look at your med profile to make sure there are no drug interactions. If there are, we will intervene and follow up with the prescriber.

Oh you thought our job was to only lick, stick, count, and pour? Well, so does everyone else. 

Everyone agrees that times change right? The practice of pharmacy is no exception. Just like doctors, pharmacists are trained in medicine. The key difference is this: doctors are trained to diagnose the problem, while pharmacists are trained in which drug therapy is the most appropriate. Most people are not aware that pharmacists have now been upgraded with the additional specialty knowledge to join doctors as part of the medical team. Clinical pharmacists are now paving the way to more effective healthcare by being able to cut out some of the guesswork that prescribers used to have to deal with in terms of drug treatment. In working together with doctors, nurses, as well as the rest of those associated with providing healthcare, we have helped streamline the treatment process.

So finally, after we have done our final checks to make sure your prescription is both correct, as well as appropriate, we can finally dispense it to you. Did it take longer than your “can’t you just pull it off the shelf and give it to me?” Yes it did, but at least now you know why. Because we care about your health.

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Why does it take so long to fill a prescription?

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