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    Pharmacists and phone etiquette

    A cry from telephone limbo


    What I think

    When a tech tells us that a local pharmacy is on the phone, requesting a copy for a transfer, that never stirs warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of most pharmacists.

    My own first thought is that we did a poor job taking care of that customer. My second thought is that our competitor is stealing the customer from us. My third thought is that if the chain provided us with enough staffing, we could take better care of our existing customers.

    We as pharmacists rightly complain about how poorly we’re treated by the chain we work for, yet we often treat other pharmacists equally poorly by the inconsiderate handling of calls for Rx transfers. Our attitude seems to be: Since I’m being treated poorly by my employer, I intend to spread the grief around by treating techs, doctors, nurses, receptionists, customers, and pharmacists on the phone equally poorly.

    What they think

    As a chain pharmacist, I wasn’t trying to steal our competitors’ customers. We already had more scripts than we could handle in our dangerously understaffed pharmacy. I took no enjoyment in transferring scripts from competitors. It is a very time-consuming and monotonous task.

    I admit that handling phone calls from competitors wanting Rx transfers is sometimes quite unpleasant. Sometimes (quite often, actually) the pharmacist calling for a transfer has a superior attitude, with the unstated implication in his voice: We’re taking your customer because obviously you did not take care of them. We’re a better pharmacy than you are. You’re a bunch of losers!

    So I, too, did not like handling phone transfers when the pharmacist had that attitude. Some pharmacists call for a transfer and bark (almost demand), “Need a copy!” I interpret that attitude as We need a copy because you losers can’t take care of your customers! These types of calls always increased my blood pressure. I wish pharmacists would instead ask in a courteous way, “Can we get a copy?”

    What do you think?

    What is the proper phone etiquette for requesting a copy for an Rx transfer? Some pharmacists clearly need major improvement in this area.

    Do you prefer a dog-eat-dog world that takes stealing each other’s customers for granted?

    Or can we rise above our competitive and mercenary instincts to treat each other with respect?

    A frequent contributor to Drug Topics, Dennis Miller is a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback at [email protected]. His books Chain Drug Stores are Dangerous and Pharmacy Exposed are available at Amazon.com.

    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."