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    Forge ahead into the digital age–or not

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    David Stanley, RPh
    I'm not sure if I should admit this, but I'm old enough to remember typed prescription labels. As in—done with a typewriter. I have clear childhood memories of sitting in the waiting room of my local drugstore as the sound of an electric Smith Corona could be heard clapping away behind the counter.

    By the time I was behind that counter myself, however, the typewriter was gathering dust in the corner like a monument to some ancient time, and the pharmacy had thankfully moved into the age of the computer.

    No one would deny that technology has changed the very nature of what it means to be a pharmacist, and almost everyone would say that the tools that have so changed our role—centralized medication profiles; powerful software that sorts through thousands of potential drug interactions, dosage ranges, and appropriate prescribing data; and the ability to check state-controlled substance databases to stop abuse of addictive and dangerous medications—are essential to the safe and effective practice of pharmacy today.

    Some people aren't on board

    Well, almost everyone might say those tools are essential, but not everyone. Perhaps not even 1 of the country's major drug chains.

    More than 1 pharmacist has told me that it is the official policy of a certain chain that pharmacists who are not comfortable filling prescriptions while the company's central computer system is down would be fired. None of these pharmacists would go on the record, so I can't very well say which chain it is. I can, however, verify some of what they told me.

    I have a copy of a very strongly worded memo from a District Manager that says in part:

    "EVERY store MUST use offline...I will be calling every store to ensure you are using. If a pharmacist refuses, it can be grounds for termination. This is your warning!!! This is not just a decision made by the district...it is Region/Company policy to ensure no prescriptions/business are lost."

    Right from the horse's mouth. Certainly very straightforward. I asked this company's public relations contact what safeguards are in place to ensure the same level of safety for customers and compliance with state-mandated professional functions in these situations. Here's what he wrote back:

    "In the event that our central pharmacy computer system is temporarily unavailable, we have resources within our pharmacies that allow pharmacists to continue filling prescriptions and take care of their patients' needs. For example, our pharmacies can still perform drug utilization reviews [DUR] using information saved electronically within the pharmacy. We have developed procedures to ensure that prescriptions filled during any such temporary system outage comply with applicable regulations."

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    David Stanley, RPh
    David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at [email protected]