Do you get your prescription medications filled at a pharmacy located in one of the larger retail chains? If so, you are not alone. As a consumer, the convenience of having a pharmacy within a store offering other retail products cannot be overstated. But does that convenience come at a cost to safety and efficacy? The answer, based on a view from the other side of the pharmacy counter, is probably.
Your retail chain pharmacist may be working a non-stop day that could last 12 or more hours, which not only includes counseling patients and filling prescriptions, but also handling insurance and provider coordination, answering phones, manning the drive-up window, running the cash registers, and providing clinical services such as vaccines and tests. The pharmacists may even be assisting customers with coupons, store rewards programs, and other services unrelated to their pharmacy role. In a 2019 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, which was before COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout, 91% of retail chain pharmacists rated their workloads “high” or “excessively high.”
Increasing corporate consolidation and the acquisition of formerly independent pharmacies by these retail pharmacies is the primary cause of these high workloads. Efficiency metrics and a profit focus set performance expectations for pharmacists, and with declining profit margins, those expectations just continue to grow. With a significant increase of pharmacy graduates in the market combined with flat demand and salaries, pharmacists do not have the luxury of going to work for a competitor if they want to stay employed.
So what happens when a pharmacist works long shifts under tremendous pressure to make every minute profitable? Their job satisfaction and overall well-being suffers. This, in turn, may negatively impact their job performance resulting in medication errors, such as filling a prescription with the wrong medication or the incorrect dosage.
The extent of the impact on patients is hard to quantify. There is no national mandate to report pharmacy medication errors. But pharmacists themselves have reported their ability to provide adequate patient services has suffered. For example, patient consultations, that at one time took 5 – 10 minutes, are now done in under a minute increasing the likelihood of costly medication errors such as missing critical drug interactions or miscounting pills.
As a patient, awareness and knowledge are your first lines of defense. If you use a retail pharmacy, do not bring a “quick service” mentality. The pharmacist’s job requires care and a high attention to detail. A little patience goes a long way. Also, remember that you are your own best advocate. Ask questions and make sure you understand your medications, dosage, and any possible contraindications. If you feel you have suffered as a result of a medication error, you owe it to yourself and other patients to explore your options. Contact us.