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Problem-solving in the pharmacy

James M. Scanlon, BS, RPh
Here are three examples of issues that arise in your pharmacy daily. I'm sure you can think of dozens more just like them.

1. How would you feel if you went to the pharmacy, dropped off a prescription, went shopping for half an hour, and returned to the pharmacy counter only to find out that the pharmacy did not have your medication in stock? Would you be upset? What would you expect from the pharmacy?

2. How would feel if you went to the pharmacy, dropped off a prescription, and waited half an hour only to be told that your prescription wasn't covered by your insurance because it needed a prior authorization? Would you be upset? What would you expect from the pharmacy?

3. How would you feel if you called a pharmacy for a price, received a quote over the phone, went to the pharmacy to fill the script based on the price quote, and waited half an hour only to find out that the price quoted to you over the phone was incorrect? How would you feel? What would you expect from the pharmacy?

I am a pharmacist with more than 30 years of community pharmacy experience. In relating to my patients, I often find it useful to put myself in their shoes. If I know what they are feeling at any given moment, I can better serve their needs.

Let's look at the three examples again.

1. As the pharmacist, I would start with an apology. Something like "I'm sorry, but we don't have your medication in stock." And if the patient had waited half an hour, I'd add, "I'm sorry you weren't told this when you dropped off your prescription. You shouldn't have had to wait half an hour only to be told that the medication was not in stock."

Then I would let them know what I could do for them. "What I can do for you is to order the product for you for tomorrow." Or "What I can do for you is call another pharmacy to see whether they have it. If they do, I can call the prescription in to them; it can be ready when you arrive and you won't have to wait again."

2. As the pharmacist, I would start by saying to the patient, "Unfortunately, I have some bad news. When we tried to process your prescription through your insurance, we received a message saying that your medication is not covered unless your physician puts in for a prior authorization." I would also apologize for the fact that the patient had to wait half an hour to find this out. Then I would explain the prior-authorization process and offer to call the doctor and initiate the process. If it's appropriate, I might also sneak in "This really stinks" or "If this happened to me, I wouldn't be at all happy."

3. If someone were given an incorrect price quote over the phone, as the pharmacist I would first apologize to the patient. And if I thought the situation warranted it, I might even throw in a line like "I would be upset if I were you." Then I would see whether it would be possible to honor this incorrect quote, just once, as a courtesy. If I couldn't honor the incorrect price, I would sincerely apologize, and I would tell the patient that next time we would do a better job of quoting a price over the phone.

The more you put yourself in their shoes, the more empathy you will impart to patients, and the more they will realize that you really do care about them. This caring can become the foundation for great pharmacist/patient relationships. I enjoy community pharmacy in large part because of my ability to "put myself in their shoes."

James M. Scanlon, BS, RPh, is a Frontline editorial advisory board member and a pharmacy manager in Lowell, Massachusetts.

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