Educate the Consumer

Pharmacists need to inform customers about what goes into filling prescriptions and other services performed by pharmacies to help overcome unrealistic expectations.

Pharmacy patients sometimes have unreasonable expectations about what they deserve as customers and how long those services should take to perform. But are we fueling the fire by not educating them properly?

Sometimes it amazes me that a patient can come into the pharmacy with a prescription to fill and complain about a 15 minute wait time. We’ve conditioned community pharmacy customers into the idea that we simply take a product off a shelf and put it in a bag.

In reality, life behind the counter at your local pharmacy is a little more complicated than counting by fives. There are lots of steps involved in the prescription filling process. And the consumer is often unaware of those critical tasks.

Customer expectations can go way beyond simple prompt service. Some patients think we can instantly contact their prescriber and get refill authorizations for them even if it is late in the day, on the weekend, or a holiday.

Some patients expect us to know what they want before they even ask for it. Anticipating some needs may be possible, but it is the exception and not the rule.

And with the advent of the drive-thru feature at so many pharmacies, patients simply associate their pharmacy services with those provided by a burger joint. Except we don’t sell fries, we sell medications that could cause serious harm to people under the wrong circumstances.

The general public simply doesn’t understand the dynamics in play in the world of pharmacy. And even if they did, some simply wouldn’t care. But that apathy shouldn’t stop us from attempting to educate the consumer.

I think part of the struggles we now face meeting the needs of our patients and customers is born out of a failure on our part to educate them properly. We’ve allowed misconceptions to become their reference points for what we do.

No area exemplifies this fact better than the topic of wait times. Patients can have unreasonable wait time expectations. And we haven’t done enough to educate them about what we really do to fill those prescriptions.

And what about the issue of lack of refills? I’ve given my fair share of emergency fills and tablet loans to patients who came in on Friday night with no valid prescription but an urgent need of a refill. But some patients expect that from us and will ask for it month after month.

Even our vaccination service is a source of confusion for patients. The way some companies market flu shot services implies there is zero wait, no paperwork, and an instant bump to the front of the line for anyone who is interested in a flu shot.

Yes, pharmacists can only explain things so many times to patients. Sometimes they just won’t get the explanation for our prescription wait times. But we should do more to inform consumers what we do for them.

It doesn’t help that some pharmacy chains have marketing campaigns that highlight a level of convenience that isn’t possible to achieve. And at least one major chain came up with a “guarantee” regarding prescription wait times.

I believe that educating patients about what pharmacy employees do for them will help bridge the gap between their unreasonable expectations and the reality of our work. Will it solve all conflicts between patients and pharmacists? No, but it could help prevent some issues.

If we allow patients to expect 5 minute wait times and other unrealistic outcomes then that’s what they will expect from us. We’ve got to tell them why 5 minutes isn’t normally a reasonable wait time.

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians need to explain our work process more to patients. We need to tell the consumer what we do exactly and why it is important. We need to show them why we matter. We need to educate them!

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