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    Pharmacists and phone etiquette

    A cry from telephone limbo


    Dennis MillerDennis MillerWhen I wrote my commentary titled “What kinds of pharmacists get under your skin?” I expected to be bombarded with e-mails from pharmacists who criticized me for criticizing them. It turns out I was wrong. It turns out that lots of pharmacists do indeed enjoy criticizing other pharmacists. They have lots of stuff to get off their chest about their annoying colleagues.

    See also: Pharmacists and cognitive dissonance

    Professional courtesy

    One of the most frequent peeves pharmacists mentioned in their e-mail feedback was that other pharmacists don’t pick up the phone for an Rx transfer. Pharmacists are placed on hold for an eternity — they’re being shown no respect whatsoever.

    I received an e-mail from a pharmacist who said he is annoyed by “pharmacists who have no consideration for the time of other pharmacists. [They] leave you on the phone forever and in some instances pick up the phone, find out you are another pharmacist, and put you on hold again.”

    Occasionally I have accompanied my parents to their doctors’ appointments. In my experience, when they knew another physician was calling, the docs would immediately take the phone call, even if they were with one of my parents.

    Do physicians view this as professional courtesy for their colleagues? Why don’t we give a similar professional courtesy to the pharmacists waiting on the phone for a Rx transfer?

    See also: Is job satisfaction too much to ask?

    Pharmacists first

    There are basically four categories of people who call the pharmacy: 1) customers, 2) nurses/receptionists, 3) physicians, and 4) other pharmacists.

    In my experience, most pharmacists give priority to answering phone calls from physicians. Why shouldn’t pharmacists instead give priority to other pharmacists and let customers, physicians, and nurses/receptionists stay on hold for an eternity?

    The answer of course is that ideally we shouldn’t have to put anyone on hold for an eternity. But if we have to make someone mad by placing them on hold forever, why not make the customers and physicians mad, instead of other pharmacists?

    Of course, you may call this a recipe for getting ourselves fired, but I’m just saying.

    Dennis Miller, RPh
    Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at [email protected] His books ...


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    • Mr. Jim
      I have been a Pharmacist for over 55 years and have talked to many pharmacists over my lifetime. I remember the day when I would know personally the actual person I am talking to. I have outlived most of my contemporaries and I now have to deal with the younger clan. Some are arrogant, rude, and dismissive. I am not afraid to tell them so, and I do with regularity. Most apologize; mainly because they are overworked, angry, and tired. I only work for Independents for this reason. Sometimes I do not understand them, because the speak rapidly and with an accent. I ask for their name and please spell slowly.
    • Anonymous
      One of the many reasons our profession is on a downward trend - (most)pharmacists have no respect for other pharmacists. Unfortunately this is learned behavior from preceptors or supervisors. I noticed this lack of etiquette quickly as a student intern (and vowed to never treat my fellow pharmacists in a similar manner) Physicians have a great deal of respect for other physicians - even when they disagree.
    • Anonymous
      Why do you automatically assume that you are not doing an adequate job, or that the other pharmacy is "stealing" your patients? I have found that most transfers are insurance related. In fact, this happened to me. I am covered under my husband's insurance & was very happy having my prescriptions filled at the grocery store where I shop every week. I had developed a good relationship with that pharmacist & it was so convenient. Then my insurance company said I had to have my prescriptions filled at a certain pharmacy/PBM conglomerate (you can probably guess who), otherwise, they would not pay. I actually apologized to the pharmacist at the grocery chain, but most people won't do that, & you will never know their reasons for transferring. Other patients move out of the area; I received a call for a transfer to New Mexico last week; I practice in Pennsylvania. So don't take it personally; it probably has nothing to do with your skills, service, or care.
    • Anonymous
      Especially dislike the calls for Rx transfer just as I open or right before closing. Never hurts to have some class and consideration. Remember you reap what you sow and it isn't a one way street.
    • DougBennett
      Unless it is an emergency, my techs and clerks take the transfer request and we will fax the information. This eliminates any questions about the content of the RX and also has all the necessary Dr. information. We will also call the patient to make sure this is what they really want. The mail order pharmacies have found ways to deceive our patients into transfering without really knowing what they have done.
    • DonScaggs
      I try to considerate to all who call. I treat them the same as I would like to be treated. However, I dislike pharmacists that use their techs to call, then say "please hold for my pharmacist." Usually I will hang up. My second dislike is pharmacists that don't identify themselves. "Hi, I need a transfer," then I have to ask who they are, and what pharmacy. By the way store numbers don't help me at all.
    • Mr. SLefkow
      All incoming calls are "screened" by one of the techs. As an indie, my response time varies. For an indie, I'll respond quickly. For a chain, 'specially Walgreen, I'll go out for lunch (I've spent five to ten minutes on hold with them). MDs calls are taken as quickly as possible with an explanation if I think the wait will be over thirty seconds or so. A good customer asking a question is between MD and Walgreen. Someone asking to price of an Rx (when time permits) will be asked "Before you go to the supermarket, do you ask the butcher the price of a pound of hamburger meat? Does he come out to explain the various choices? Does he tell you how to cook it? Will he deliver it? Well, we don't sell hamburger meat and we don't give prices over the phone, but come in and we'll be glad to discuss your prescription with you."