Community Pharmacists Struggle to Fill Prescriptions, Open Positions

In a recent survey, community pharmacists discussed current hardships in the industry, which include low supply, increasing costs, and trouble filling necessary positions.

More than 75% of community pharmacists are struggling with staff shortages, according to a new survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), which results in higher payroll costs and longer wait times to fill prescriptions.

“Community pharmacists take pride in their ability to be able to efficiently take care of the consumer’s health care needs, especially compared to some of the big chains,” said NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, pharmacist, MBA, in a statement. “Staffing shortages are making those normally short wait times a little longer.”

The survey, conducted between July 25 and August 5, 2022, is a follow-up from 2 surveys conducted in 2021. The first, from May 2021, showed that nearly 79% of community pharmacists were struggling to fill open positions. The second survey was done in November 2021 and 70% of respondents reported this same issue.

The biggest problem facing pharmacies was identified as finding pharmacy technicians, according to 88% of the 360 independent pharmacy owners and managers. Approximately 73% of these pharmacists report tackling the issue by increasing wages and benefits.

Among respondents, 56% also reported that it was difficult to fill front-end staff. More than 90% of community pharmacists surveyed indicated that they were affected by inflation.

“The cost of drugs is determined by big insurance companies and their pharmacy benefit managers. They decide how much pharmacies will be reimbursed for the prescriptions they dispense, and how much patients will pay for the drugs. Pharmacy reimbursements for most drugs is going down,” Hoey said. “Between rising costs and diminishing reimbursements, neighborhood pharmacies are really being squeezed.”

Hoey noted that the labor shortage and increasing inflation are challenges for local and independent pharmacies.

He added that “community pharmacies are small businesses, and even though they are affected by the same tough conditions that are battering the rest of Main Street, the biggest threat to their ability to continue to provide health care for consumers—by far—is from the heavy-handed business tactics of insurance-owned [pharmacy benefit managers].”

The COVID-19 pandemic was an especially large factor that induced supply shortages. In an April 2020 survey, 90% of respondents acknowledged that their practice was affected by these issues. According to this most recent survey, 79% of respondents still claim to have suffered from shortages just within the past 6 months.

One specific drug, Adderall, was in short supply across many community pharmacies, according to survey respondents. Used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, nearly 64% of community pharmacists reportedly struggled to obtain the drug. Tampons, rumored to be in short supply, were only reported as a deficit in 13% of community pharmacists.

“The COVID-19 pandemic may have loosened its grip in many ways, but the economic effects are very persistent…Community pharmacies have delivered almost 260 million doses of the vaccines. They are the first line of defense in a public health crisis and in many parts of the country, they are the only line of defense,” Hoey said.

Reference

NCPA. Survey: Three-Quarters of Community Pharmacies Report Staff Shortages. NCPA website. Aug 11, 2022. Accessed on Aug 11, 2022.