A Case of Verbal Combat at the Pharmacy Counter


No patient should need to use escalating verbal combat just to be heard.

By day, I’m a full-time community pharmacist in a small outpatient pharmacy for a community hospital. We’re a small store on the first floor of a 4-story medical clinic building.

Yes, we fill prescriptions; they’re what keep the doors open. But, more than that, we provide customer service.

Because we’re located on a hospital campus, we have quite a bit of foot traffic. We’ll often see patients stop into our store who have just visited their doctor.

These patients tend to ask whether we’re a “regular pharmacy.” They want to know if they need to be some kind of member, or if can they just get their prescription filled like they would at a chain pharmacy.

“Yes,” we tell them. “We are a ‘regular pharmacy.’”

Quite often, patients will have all of their prescriptions transferred to our store after their initial visit and then continue to use us as their primary pharmacy. Sometimes, after a couple of months, patients will find that we’re too far out of their way or our schedule just doesn’t quite work for them. We understand this, and we’ll transfer out their prescriptions with a discussion, letting them know that we’ll be here if they have any questions or ever want to come back.

One such situation happened just this past week.

We had been working with a gentleman who picked up quite a few prescriptions for his wife on a monthly basis. We had everything synchronized for the couple, and the process was going well.

At one point, however, a particular medication required the patient to use a specific pharmacy that wasn’t ours. Because these folks live in another town about 10 miles away from our pharmacy, they decided to transfer all of their prescriptions to that particular pharmacy near their house.

This past week, the gentleman returned to our pharmacy to tell me that every time he picked up the phone to call that pharmacy, he felt like he was preparing for verbal combat. He stated that time and time again, his refills weren’t ready or his medications weren’t in stock.

Although this tends to happen sometimes for a multitude of reasons, his true complaint was that, regardless of who he was talking to, no one behind the pharmacy counter would listen to him. He felt as though he needed to use escalating verbal combat just to be heard, and it was making him anxious.

As a result, the gentleman had us transfer back all of his prescriptions, except the one that had to be filled at the other pharmacy. I’ve discussed this before, and I’m sure I’ll discuss it again: patients do have a choice of which pharmacy they use.

Patients who are unhappy with their current pharmacy or don’t have easy access to the pharmacist for questions should take an afternoon and stop into 3 or 4 local pharmacies to see how they operate. Stand back from the counter for about 10 minutes and see how the pharmacy personnel interact with customers at the counter and on the phone.

When you’re comfortable, step up to the counter and ask for a consult with the pharmacist. When you have the pharmacist’s attention, let him or her know you’re considering transferring your prescriptions to their store and are interested in the particular services they offer.

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