In Defense of Pharmacists Testing Doctors' Prescriptions

April 6, 2015

Pharmacists' opinions are highly regarded among their patients and fellow health care professionals.

A gentleman named Glen Serlen wrote a letter in November to New Jersey’s Courier-News about a trip he took to a community pharmacy with his son. The son went to pick up a prescription, and the pharmacist informed him that he had to call his doctor, because he felt that the dosage was too high for the patient.

“Since when did you receive your doctorate?” the elder Serlen asked the pharmacist rather awkwardly. He then stated in his letter that petulant pharmacists should know their place in the great big health care system.

My fraternity brother and fellow pharmacist shared the letter with me and asked if I would write a rebuttal. I’m more than happy to oblige:

Mr. Serlen,

Believe me when I tell you the last thing I want to do on any given day is call a doctor's office with news of a potential prescription error. It takes time out of an already busy day and interrupts my Swiss watch-like workflow.

I have made many phone calls over the past 25 years, and every time, the physician thanked me for caring enough to call. Rarely has a doctor refused to take my advice, but when it dose happen, the physician still thanks me for the call.

I don't think there is a prescriber out there who doesn't have a pharmacist to thank for preventing something dangerous from happening to a patient.

Pharmacists know their place in the health care system quite well. We are the goaltenders of the medical hockey team. We are the last stop before a prescribed medication gets to a patient for administration.

If there is a problem on a prescription, it is usually found in a pharmacy, because if the prescription makes it out of the doctor's office, the physician thinks it is fine. When it's not, a pharmacist usually catches the error.

Mr. Serlen, you asked where the pharmacist received his doctorate. Since the mid-1990s, the answer has been whatever pharmacy college he attended.

Graduate-level doctorates have been the norm for decades. I am something of a dinosaur, having only a bachelor's degree. But, it was granted to me after a 5-year program, which is considered a master's level of education for most other professionals. Pharmacists educated at this level also possess vast clinical experience in their field, which more than makes up for an extra year of school.

Prescribers have come to appreciate a pharmacist's services over the years. It's not a contest of proving your doctor wrong. As I said before, that is the last thing pharmacists want to do.

All health care professionals have their patients’ best interests at heart. Sometimes, it takes an extra pair of eyes to make that happen.

Pharmacists may not have prescriptive authority in all 50 states, but our opinions are highly regarded among our patients and fellow health care professionals. There is a reason we are 1 of the most trusted professions in the country. I hope this column shows you why.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is just doing his job.