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Why Does it Take so Long to Fill a Prescription?

This is likely the most frequently asked question about retail pharmacy. Although it is a legitimate question from a patients perspective, it is very frustrating for many pharmacists to hear. It is also a very difficult question to answer as there are infinite numbers of possible disruptions to the process of filling a prescription. Before I attempt to answer this legitimate question lets look at a couple of other services that require waiting several minutes or more.

1- Any professional service: Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, etc. all have considerable wait times. Their services are all information based and require a significant knowledge base to complete their jobs. As a general rule we are willing to wait for these professional services due to the perceived value in the professionals knowledge and service provided.

2- A Deli Counter: I personally have waited 20 minutes or longer just to get a few slices of deli meat or cheese. This is not uncommon since there may be a few people ahead in line who also have specific orders which need to be individually completed. Occasionally it is just a single person with a large complicated order. The deli has finite resources (staff and slicers) available to complete customer’s orders and the counter gets backed up.

3- The local Auto Lube: Many places advertise 20 minute oil changes but the wait can be longer. If it is your first visit, they collect a full page of information which needs to be entered into their computer before the car can be serviced.

Each of these examples describes a situation in which the actual service being provided takes only a short time to accomplish but the wait time can be much longer depending on circumstance outside anyone’s control. It doesn’t take much to create a backlog and extended wait times.

Now lets take a look at the steps involved in filling a new prescription from a new customer. A new customer requires a few more steps than an existing customer and refills also require less work. But as you read the steps involved, keep in mind this describes an ideal situation of one prescription with no interruptions filled by a well trained competent team.

The pharmacy I currently work in breaks the process down into a series of steps. These steps may vary somewhat depending on the system in place. These steps are designed to improve efficiency and reduce errors. The effort to reduce errors will often decrease the efficiency but is absolutely necessary to ensure patient safety.

1- Presciption Reception: A new patient presenting a precription to the pharmacy needs to fill out an information sheet. The information required is at minimum: Name, Address, Phone Number, Date of Birth, Allergies, Gender, and Insurance Information. Hopefully the person filling in the information on the form will print clearly. Delays will happen if this information cannot be read and entered into the computer. Also, it is quite common for a new person, when asked “Have you been here before?” to answer “Yes.” The phamacy staff searches in vain for this person only to have to start from scratch when the patient come back to pick it up.

2- Data Entry: This part involves entering all above information in addition to the drug name, strength, quantity, instructions, refills and doctor information. This step can be difficult if the doctors handwriting is poor (there are many jokes about doctors handwriting but it is not a laughing matter, peoples lives are on the line here). The prescription is then processed and the claim sent to the insurance company. Often claim processing requires several attempts as the information on the insurance card is frequently not easily interpreted.

3- Dispensing: Usually the simplest and most straightforward part of the process. It involves locating the stock bottle, counting the tablets, stickering the vial and assebling the bag.

4-Verification: This step can only be done by a pharmacist. It involves verifying every piece of information listed above is accurate and the correct medication has been given to the patient. The final prescription is screend for accuracy, correct dosage, drug interactions, appropriateness of the medication for the patient, drug allergies and the correct product is being dispensed. This process can be very involved when a patient has multiple medications and/or medical conditions.

5- Release to Patient: This is where the medication is given to the patient and it is paid for, signed for and the patient is asked if they have any questions. Sometimes a patient has a question or presents the pharmacy with a drug reimbursement card the doctor gave them. The pharmacist answers any of the patient’s questions here. The drug card causes more delay as this needed to be done at the data entry stage.

The entire process can be done in an amazingly short time if everything goes smoothly. But each step can be quite time consuming if things aren’t perfect. Either way, please be patient with your pharmacist, your life and health depend on accurate prescriptions being dispensed.

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56 comments

  1. [...] why it takes 15 minutes or more to fill a prescription. I have addressed this in a recent article (Why does it take so long to fill a prescription?). Since you cannot safely make the pharmacy staff work faster how do you get in and out of the [...]


  2. Excellent explanation! I want my pharmacist and pharmacy technician to take their time and provide life-saving information and accuracy concerning all my prescriptions. I am prepared to wait for this important part of my health care. Thank you!


  3. The 20+ minute wait times at pharmacies occur because the people who work at pharmacies, just like the person who wrote this article, enjoy wasting our time. It is a mere matter of observation. Watch the pharmacist pace back and forth with no real sense of urgency.

    Case in point is the article above:
    References to other professions that are completely unrelated.
    Everyone knows a 30 minute oil change is fast because we see the grease monkeys hustling around the garage, real hands on work.
    And what in the hell does a pharmacy have to do with a deli.

    A monkey throwing darts could fill your prescription in under 20 minutes.


  4. Can you amagine how much business a pharmacy could get if they could figure out a way to do this in 5 minutes or less. If everything was designed with that goal in mind I’ll bet it could be done. I’ll bet they could make enough money tpo pay a full staff of Pharmasist if that’s what it would take.


  5. JAMES–YOU ARE AN IDIOT!


  6. Wow! Only a 20 minute wait, I dream to have that again. It now takes 3-5 hours for them to fill at my pharmacy.


  7. Yeah I don’t get this 20 mintute wait time thing. I’m getting a prescription filled today at Publix and I was told it will be ready in two hours! I think that the pharmacy system is broken and no one want’s to admit it.


  8. I can understand why it might take more time for a new prescription or a new customer.

    Entering patient information, allergies, and insurance along with providing a thorough consult seems like it could legitimately take 10-15 minutes.

    But I still don’t understand why it takes 45 minutes to an hour for me to pick up the same prescription I’ve been getting for a year.

    1. Take the order
    2. Enter it into a computer system
    3. Put it in a bag
    4. Double check it
    5. Give it to the customer

    They manage to do this at McDonald’s in around 2-3 minutes. What am I am missing?


  9. I am a pharmacy tech and I hate the fact that people that have never been on the other side like to think that they know what goes on. I would like to think that if the roles were reversed and I was the one of the other side, they would be less concerned with the 5 minute wait time and more concerned with making sure that everything they were doing was done 100% right. After all it is not like we are working at McDonalds and if we give you a big mac instead of a cheeseburger there is really no big deal.


  10. OK regarding the Mcdonalds comment. You may get your food in 2-3 minutes but how many mistakes occur? I mean honestly either the food is disgusting or it’s completely wrong. Sometimes it might be right but do you really want to gamble with your life? Do you really want this mistake to happen at a pharmacy?? If it does you may never be around to see it happen again.

    The other thing that contributes to wait time is how many people are in front of you. We can’t just bump you to the front since you are in a hurry. Patience is a virtue people and it would be great if someone remembered this! Plus if you have 8 prescriptions your wait just became longer. We have to fill, count, and check every one of those.

    Just remember we are doing our best to fill everything quickly BUT correctly.

    (Oh and the 3 hour wait time is crazy! Our max wait is typically 30 to 45 minutes. And that is when we are extremely busy!)


  11. My pharmacy takes more than three hours to fill my perscription then I have to wait usually an additional 45 minuted to an hour to pick it up. I think this is unacceptiable. One time thay decided not to fill my prescription at all because I no longer had insurance instead of calling to confirm I still wanted it. They are very unorganized and I hate to switch pharmacies because I’ve been going there for years. Am I expecting too much?


  12. I offer the following prescription scenario to all of you who have never worked in a pharmacy… AND THIS IS A PRETTY ACCURATE SCENARIO

    You come to the counter, I am on the phone with a drunk dude who wants the phone number to the grocery store next door. After I instruct him on the virtues of 411, you tell me your doctor was to phone in your prescription to me Your Doctor hasn’t, and you’re unwilling to wait until he does Being in a generous mood, I call you doctors office and am put on hold for 5 minutes, then informed that your prescription was phoned in to my competitor on the other side of town. Phoning the competitor, I am immediately put on hold for 5 minutes before speaking to a clerk, who puts me back on hold to wait for the pharmacist. Your prescription is then transferred to me, and now I have to get the 2 phone calls that have been put on hold while this was being done. Now I return to the counter to ask if we’ve ever filled prescriptions for you before. For some reason, you think that “for you” means “for your cousin” and you answer my question with a “yes”, whereupon I go to the computer and see you are not on file.

    The phone rings.

    You have left to do something very important, such as browse through the monster truck magazines, and do not hear the three PA announcements requesting that you return to the pharmacy. You return eventually, expecting to pick up the finished prescription…..

    The phone rings.

    …….only to find out that I need to ask your address, phone number, date of birth, if you have any allergies and insurance coverage. You tell me you’re allergic to codeine. Since the prescription is for Vicodin I ask you what codeine did to you when you took it. You say it made your stomach hurt and I roll my eyes and write down “ no known allergies” You tell me……

    The phone rings.

    ……you have insurance and spend the next 5 minutes looking for your card. You give up and expect me to be able to file your claim anyway. I call my competitor and am immediately put on hold. Upon reaching a human, I ask them what insurance they have on file for you. I get the information and file your claim, which is rejected because you changed jobs 6 months ago. An asshole barges his way to the counter to ask where the bread is.

    The phone rings.

    I inform you that the insurance the other pharmacy has on file for you isn’t working. You produce a card in under 10 seconds that you seemed to be unable to find before. What you were really doing was hoping your old insurance would still work because it had a lower copay. Your new card prominently displays the logo of Nebraska Blue Cross, and although Nebraska Blue cross does in face handle millions of prescription claims every day, for the group you belong to, the claim should go to a company called Caremark, whose logo is nowhere on the card.

    The phone rings.

    A lady comes to the counter wanting to know why the cherry flavored antacid works better than the lemon cream flavored antacid. What probably happened is that she had a milder case of heartburn when she took the cherry flavored brand, as they both use the exact same ingredient in the same strength. She will not be satisfies though until I confirm her belief that the cherry flavored brand is the superior product. I file your claim with Caremark, who reject it because you had a 30 day supply of Vicodin filled 15 days ago at another pharmacy. You swear to me on your mother’s….

    The phone rings.

    ……..life that you did not have a Vicodin prescription filled recently. I called Caremark and am immediately placed on hold. The most beautiful woman on the planet walks buy and notices not a thing. She has never talked to a pharmacist and never will. Upon reaching a human at Caremark, I am informed that the Vicodin prescription was indeed filled at another of my competitors. When I tell you this, you say you got hydrocodone there, not Vicodin. Another little part of me dies.

    The phone rings.

    It turns out that a few days after your doctor wrote your last prescription, he told you to take it more frequently, meaning that what Caremark thought was a 30-day supply is indeed a 15 day supply with the new instruction. I call your docotr’s office to confirm this and am immediately placed on hold. I call Caremark to get an override and am immediately placed on hold. My laser printer has a paper jam. It’s time for my tech to go to lunch. Caremark issues the override and your claim goes through. Your insurance saves you 85 cents off the regular price of the prescription.

    The phone rings.

    At the cash register you sign….

    The phone rings.

    …….the acknowledgement that you received a copy of my HIPAA policy and that I offered the required OBRA counseling for the new prescriptions. You remark that you’re glad that your last pharmacist told you you shouldn’t take over the counter Tylenol along with the Vicodin, and that the acetaminophen you’re taking instead seems to be working pretty well. I break the news to you that Tylenol is simply a brand name for acetaminophen and you don’t believe me. You fumble around for 2 minutes looking for your checkbook and spend another 2 minutes making a check for four dollars and sixty seven cents. You ask why the tablets look different than those you got at the other pharmacy. I explain that they are from a different manufacturer. Tomorrow you’ll be back to tell me they don’t work as well.

    Now Imagine this wasn’t you at all, but the person who dropped off their prescription three people ahead of you, and you’ll start to have an idea why…..your prescription takes so damn long to fill.

    11:55 PM – 2550 views – 6 eprops – 5 comments – email it


  13. I think James is right! Hahaha!


  14. Bruce, you are my hero! If that were to only happen once a day, I’d be happy. But unfortunately it is usually about one-half of the customers.
    And to the comment of a dart-throwing monkey: I could fill your script in 20 seconds flat, but it won’t be right, you won’t know how to take it, and I wouldn’t care. If you don’t care enough about your own health, why should I? I would just hand you any bottle from my shelf (maybe estrogen would be good James?!?!) and send you on your way… Good luck with that. Oh, and not too many dart-throwing monkies worry about getting sued or killing someone.
    Pharmacies are not handing out Big Macs. If you don’t want to wait, call your refill in ahead of time…not just 20 minutes, but a couple days. In & out of the pharmacy in minutes then. You know you are running low on meds a few days before you are out, call then. Most insurance companies let you fill after 75% of you med is gone (about 7 days before you are out) use that time to call for a refill.


  15. I also work in a pharmacy and have found the comments bordering on ridiculous! This attitude is a product of complete self-centeredness of our society. No-one considers the other people who have come before them nor the other responsibilities the people in the dispensary have It is the “I am here..drop everything else and do mine.” These are the same people who cannot take 3 minutes to call in their prescription the day before they come in. Refills do only take a few minutes however there may be several people ahead of you who have new prescriptions. There is a reason you don’t just go to the “Blood Pressure” aisle at Publix and pick your own prescriptions. A great deal of the pharmacy staff time is taken up in resolving issues that are the customers responsibility….tracking down refills , calling insurance companies on their behalf, calling their “regular” pharmacy to obtain their information, calling the prescriber because they forgot to tell the doctor what their allergies are etc etc etc.
    When you see only a few tablets left in the bottle..call in! It is simple and makes it all much easier. Call-ins are done when the in-store customers are taken care of. On a busy day , there can be several hours with no break in customers, so call the day before!!


  16. Bruce, that is the best explaination!! Unfortunately we get this question from both the patients and management.


  17. I LOVE BRUCE!!!!!!!!!! I’M TAKING THIS TO MY DEVELOPMENT MEETING TONIGHT BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO DISCUSS AND I THINK THIS WILL BE A GREAT ICEBREAKER! LOL OH IF ONLY WE WERE “REAL” DOCTORS THAT ACTUALLY GOT A CO-PAY FOR COUNSELING!


  18. A pharmacy is NOT a fast food restaurant! Don’t bring in 5 Rx’s expecting them to be filled in 5 minutes with 4 other people waiting ahead of you. And just because there’s a drive-thru window, doesn’t mean you can sit there and wait for your crap to be filled. It’s for CONVENIENCE – not quicker service! And if you’ve been out of your HCTZ for 6 months & come in demanding you need it NOW, we’re all going to intentionally take our time simply because you’re not going to drop dead on the pharmacy floor in the next 10 minutes without it. Don’t ask me why your insurance isn’t covering your medication – I DON’T KNOW! I work for a pharmacy, not BCBS. YOU need to call them, not me! And just because you have Medicaid, doesn’t mean you always have a zero co-pay!!!!!!! FYI- Pharmacists know more than your doctor does about your meds.
    Next time you visit the pharmacy, have some courtesy for the people who work there – A LOT of idiots show up throughout the course of the day & have a tendency to aggravate the pharm staff. Be kind.


  19. If only all customers understood the fact that completely the drive-thru window is for convenience only. I don’t know why some inpatient people think they should be able to just sit there as though they are in line to pick up an order at Mcdonald’s. This happens on a regular basis even after informing the customer it will take 15-20 mins to fill their prescription. Lord forbid you have to inform them that their med needs a prior auth, prepare to endure the wrath. Customers should not get all hostile with the pharmacy staff, it’s the stupid insurance companies that they should be yelling at. I can not recall how many times per day I ask a drive-thru customer, “when would you like to pick up your prescriptions” and I am quickly answered when an adamant “NOW.” I often ponder wtf are these ppl thinking.. Some customers seem to think we can magically have their meds ready in a matter of seconds. The most annoying part of my day is when I complete a prescription and the customer comes back to pay for it and then hands me their insurance or medicaid card!!!!!!! Omg that really gets under skin. I then have to rebill the prescriptions while the customer asks, why is it taking longer? I just want to say you idiot give me your new insurance card when you drop off the script. DUH! Oh and don’t get me started on the ones that are on narcotics, for they are by far some of the worst. If they don’t have their endocet or what not filled in five minutes or less all hell is going to freeze over.These people are notorious for lying after asked if they had meds filled recently at another pharmacy. I just want to ask do you really think that we wouldn’t find out.. really now. Working as a pharmacy tech can be an annoying job no doubt, from rude customers to dealing with insurance companies to having to call the doctor just to ask what the hell he wrote because you can’t read the chicken ish he has scribbled. This is not Burger King people.. You can’t have it your way, have patience.


  20. Funny, it took Publix 7 hrs to fill mine, not just 20 minutes. http://www.oldfartlife.com/2011/07/25/pharmacy-protocol-needs-some-huge-changes/


  21. James is right! Farmacist are over pay they most of them are from other country’s where hard work and efficiency are not really a priority and they can care less about your time…. That’s a reality a fact…..if the phone is ringing so damn much hire a secretary and do ur job!!!!


  22. Bruce, you and your supporters live in some alternate universe. I have sat at pharmacies and watched the employees fill my prescriptions. Multiple employees are there. No interruptions. And they definitely don’t like being watched as they do so little. There was no insurance company to call. No doctor to double-check anything with. All the data entering was done when the prescription was handed to them by me. All they had to do was to print out a label and affix it to a box. A box of toothpaste, no less. Not even a pill to count. And yet 15, 20 minutes tick by until my prescription is “ready”. And then there is no advice, no great pharmacist’s helpful words. I pay cash and there’s no complication there. I don’t doubt you have problems, but the answer should be to solve them, not to use them as a crutch for sympathy. A hundred years of pharmacists and you can’t get with the program. It’s some sort of cosmic joke. You’re not fooling anyone with your litany of excuses. To never do your job at an efficient speed when you could easily do so is disrespectful. I like people more than machines, but when you drag your feet and waste my time for no good reason I’m afraid for you. Count the days until you are replaced with vending machines. And then don’t blame anyone but yourselves for courting inefficiency and redundancy. When the time warp you use to shield yourself pops, you’ll be wondering what happened. Oh well, just wanted to let you know that too many people know that the emperor has no clothes.


  23. @ Maxim i think you are right. it would work out much better for all of us if you would get your prescriptions from a vending machine. good luck with that.


  24. Okay, my Dr. Has already been over my allergies with me, and given me instructions on how to take the medication. I have filled perscriptions here every month for the past 6 years (my perscription, not my cousins). I am not filing with insurance I’m paying cash. My Dr. Did not scribble in “Dr. Handwriting”, he provided a nice clean computer print out. NOW…why does it take over an hour to fill my perscription? Hang up on the drunk asshole, tell the bread inquirer that you only answer pharmacy related questions and take care of your paying customers. I don’t expect a 5 minute turn around, but an hour is too long.


  25. …And Sarah, as a CPhT, your lack of professionalism in your comment is saddening.


  26. All WEAK excuses. This particular prescription is 100% pre-packaged. Repeat customer. Called in over an hour ago. I can check, double check, triple check 1000 times in 20 minutes. There are 4 people working behind the counter!!!!

    Home now and what do you know, WRONG PRESCRIPTION!!!


  27. I wonder how many scripts your pharmacy fills every day? I wonder how many of those people called in scripts to be done ahead of yours? Four people behind the counter… One person for the register, one for data entry, one for drive thru, and the pharmacist checking what is probably hundreds for prescriptions… So who exactly is counting and/or labeling those prescriptions and answering all the phone calls? Probably whoever can get time away from dealing with rude customers like you… Just because you don’t see anyone around you does not mean no one else is waiting and I can guarantee that the person doing data entry had a whole lot more prescriptions to type in than just your script. And really what is so important about a toothpaste that you had to have it immediately? Come back later and let us fill medications for people that actually need them quickly like antibiotics for children. Call in refills at least 24 hours in advance, always stop in to update insurance as soon as you receive your card, verify the scripts you are picking up before you leave the pharmacy, pay attention to the number of refills on your bottle and don’t wait until the last minute to contact your MD for a renewal. If everyone followed just these few steps that I can assure you that your prescriptions would almost always be ready on time. But since most people can’t get it around their heads to learn to be responsible for their own healthcare I guess you’ll just have to learn to wait.


  28. Stephanie..that was the best answer so far, as it is the only one that makes since. Mine was an antibiotic for my child and it still took over an hour. I wasn’t rude to the pharmacist, as I try not to carry myself that way. I chose instead to sit patiently and read this blog.


  29. So I thought I would give a little more perspective as to things that happen behind the pharmacy counter.  I work in one of the big named retail chains in one of the busiest stores in my area. At the end of the night I usually file 5-8 bundles of new prescriptions… With 100 per bundle that’s 500-800 NEW prescriptions that were sent in that were typed and processed.  Not all of them will be filled… Some will be too early because they are renewals so we will just put the on hold until the patients call to tell us they need them.  For some reason some people believe that for everyone of these ‘too early’ prescriptions we should call the patients and let them know (as if having 2 weeks worth left in the bottle is not enough of an indication).  If only 100 out of 800 were too early and we called all those patients… Most phone calls would be at least 3 minutes at minimum… That would take one person 300 minutes or 5 HOURS to make all those calls. Not realistic at all.  The 500-800 scripts only takes into account NEW scripts and most people in retail will agree that you fill more refills than actual new scripts on a daily basis.  On average I think that our store actually fills about 800 new and refilled scripts per day (this varies a lot based on the time of month and weekends are usually slower).  So prescription scenario time: let’s assume you are a current customer and your insurance is already on file.  You bring in 3 scripts (no narcotics) I am willing to bet I could have all 3 of your scripts typed, counted, and awaiting verification by the pharmacist in 3 minutes. Assuming no life threatening drug interactions it should only take the pharmacist 1-2 minutes to check your prescription.  So five minutes and your prescription should be ready right?  Of course the person behind you just had to wait 5 minutes for me to wait on you and then there is a person behind them that will have to wait another 5 and so on and so forth…. Now you can see a spiraling problem.  Of course I’m not John Travolta and I don’t live in a bubble… I can’t stop typing to fill your script just because you are in a rush, I have to continue typing the next person’s script (or more likely prioritize any of the hundreds of faxes and e-scripted prescriptions in between waiters).  Hopefully at this point there is a technician that is not running a register, drive thru, or answering a phone that can count your prescription.  This is not always the case.  Between those pesky federal required lunch breaks, unceasing phone calls, and constant insurance issues we are lucky to have one person dedicated to filling prescriptions at any given time.  It is up to person typing, the pharmacist trying to check, and the person running drive thru (yes that probably is why you waited so long at the window) to move back and forth between the production station to help the person in production to keep prescriptions moving through the pharmacy.  Next time you go into the pharmacy take a look and the counter and see if there is anyone counting (if your pharmacy is open enough to see where techs count pills) that should be your first indication as to whether we are busy.  If their is no one counting then yes we are probably crazy busy. Of course the simple solution to this problem in to have more people working in the pharmacy… Of course we tell our district manager this every time we get a complaint about wait time but yet they just cut our hours again…. Oh well… I wonder what kind of bonus our CEO will get this year?  Hmmm guess that’s corporate America for you.  I have more to add to this but I am tired… 10 hour shift… Time to sleep… I’ll add more later…

    BTW: Jenn thanks for having patience… I understand that it can be frustrating but you have no idea how much positive customer interaction helps us get through the day :-)


  30. Here’s the thing though, and I understand about all of the interruptions, etc. Pharmacies are, believe it or not, a part of the service industry. Everyone who works in the service industry gets interrupted and has unexpected things to do. That’s simply a part of the job. But, in most industries there is still an expectation that things be done in a timely manner. The reality is that there is a simple fix for people who do not provide correct or sufficient information when they drop off a prescription: put it in a designated spot and when the person returns to pick it up tell them they did not give the necessary information. Don’t wait to fill it, move on. That’s their bad. Why should I be punished for someone else’s stupidity? This is how it would work in any other profession.

    Also, I don’t think anyone one here is complaining about 15-20 minute wait times. All of the negative comments are about hour and longer waits which, like it or not, are ridiculous to the majority of people. I dropped off a script today 30 minutes before my pharmacy closed and was told to “pick it up first thing in the morning” since it could not be filled today. Note that this is a pharmacy where I’m well established and that the script was for something pre-packaged. When I asked what time they opened they said 9:00 and I said see you then, to which they responded, “Well, don’t come til at least 9:30. They’ll need time in the morning to fill it.” What?! I responded, “Don’t you just need to run my insurance, find the bottle, and stick a label on it?” and was told that there’s “a lot more to it than that.” Well, after reading this article it is clear that there really is not a lot more to it than that.

    Also, it must be nice to have a job where you can leave each day before your actual work is done. Need to get me one of those.

    So basically, all jobs have interruptions and hundreds of excuses about why you might be doing things slowly. It’s not acceptable anywhere else, why should it be in a pharmacy?

    And lastly, taking offense to generic comments people have made on a blog post about pharmacies as if you’re being personally insulted speaks to a bit of insecurity methinks.


  31. Ok, all the comments with the long scenarios of the woes of working in a pharmacy are making a false connection. Being overwhelmed by too many customers is not unique to a pharmacy. It is a situation that happens to any service business that is understaffed.

    A pharm that can’t fill a prescription in 30 minutes doesn’t have bad employees… It’s simply a poorly run business. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the uniqueness of being a pharmacy and the special retirements that entails.

    Basically if your pharm is taking hours to fill a simple prescription then it is because they are trying to do the same amount of work with less employees in order to cut costs and make more money. Just like you would with any bad business, take your money elsewhere and move on.


  32. I’m no pharmacist, but as a medical professional I understand the kind of running around you must deal with all day every day: entering patient information, fighting with the computer system, answering and placing numerous phone calls, dealing with doctors and insurance companies (my favorite!), etc. As a former retail worker, I understand what it’s like to deal with idiots. What I don’t understand is why when I approach the counter with no one else in line, 4 or 5 techs and/or pharmacists chit chat and shuffle around aimlessly, refusing to look my way. Then after minutes of waiting, someone finally acknowledges my presence and halfheartedly waits on me. I am not saying that this is an easy job or that it requires little work. I am not even saying that all pharmacists/techs are lazy or careless or that all pharmacies operate this way, but I have tried many different pharmacies over the years and for the most part, this seems to be the standard procedure. If a mechanic, cashier or waitress performed their job in this manner, you would be irritated too, would you not?


  33. All of these complaints make the case for mail-order pharmacies. Also, you don’t have to suffer rude employees with no customer service training, insufferable wait times, etc.


  34. I’m a new pharmacy tech and find it very difficult to do my job when the drug I need is not on the shelf do to extemley tight inventories. Everyone just keeps running around asking who used it last or is it over there, should I open a new bottle. Or better yet couple this with the pharmacist that wants the stock bottle sent with the script, then it can be with the pharmacist, in another patient bucket, under the counter of a hording tech etc. Sheldon


  35. Thanks very much for answering this question. I was just told it would take two hours to get a prescription filled when I have been to the pharmacy before, they verified that they had the medication in stock, and I have no insurance to deal with. And it’s Tuesday! This definitely gave me insight into why that would happen.


  36. As a former retail worker, bartender, and food handler I can tell you that any person working with the urgency and enthusiasm of your average pharmacist would be fired in there first week.
    You know…you could just be honest and tell us that the reason it takes so damn long is because you went to school for something god-awful and boring so there aren’t to many people trying to take your job from you and that you know we’ll wait…cause we have to.

    Nobody…AND I MEAN NOBODY has waited 20 minutes for a sandwich…at dominos some people call to inquire about there pizza 25 minutes after order (and that’s for delivery).

    Go PH yourself.


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  38. i agree with Jamess. The first time I had to buy pills in the US, I got in shock!! The process is incredible cumbersome!! The doctor already checked me, why you can’t just grab the pills and hand them to me? Hahaha. This is the American style. BTW, paying a doctor 100 dollars or more for talking to him and getting a prescription is even more annoying.


  39. I think pharmacists deserve the same level of respect as other trained health professionals… Saying a monkey could do their job is just plain ignorant.

    I’ve had pharmacists catch things that my doctors hasn’t, and warned me about it, and one time they asked me to double check with my doctor, and it turned out he had been wrong, and the mistake was potentially dangerous…

    Put simply, they know more about the chemistry of your body than most family doctors would… at least here in Canada, anyway, where it’s an incredibly competitive 3 year program, like med school but without the residency.


  40. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something
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  41. If someone is impatient, we get their prescription filled as soon as we can without putting them ahead of somebody else. It does take some time depending on the medication. some are real easy and some are not so easy. We always are busy. A monkey can’t do a pharmacist job, counseling takes knowledge and skill. If we let ourselves get annoyed by other people, then we have failed. however, there is time involved and we only have so many people. So, it is not as easy as some people think.


  42. I was waiting for the legitimate reason.


  43. Genuine question. I have had Kaiser HMO for years, had a five minute dr appointment, told to fill an Rx for depression at the Kaiser pharmacy downstairs. I check in, give them my card to scan, e-fax has already arrived from the doc.

    Annnnnnd…one hour wait time quoted. The lady in front of me was told 15 minutes. I was told it’s because of the type of Rx. ??

    I get the waits for new patients, have to call it in, no rx card, etc. But for a doc-and-scrip in a box setup, why would it take such varying amounts of times to dispense? Is Effexor used to make meth now or something?


  44. BS
    Your telling me it takes 20+ minuites (even with no line) to type some stuff in, read a prescription, get some tablets, and verifying it was done right!? That should take 5! I’m sure that sloppy handwriting is a large delay (obvious sarcasm is obvious). They put in these delays so you stay in the store longer, thus increasing chance of buying something.


  45. If your script was the only one a pharmacist had to fill 5 to 10 minutes would be plenty, barring problems listed previously. However, scripts can be called in, faxed in, mailed in, e-scribed over the computer, and brought in by customers that came in before you.
    A few tips to keep things moving:
    1. Call your refills in 5 to 7 days before you are out. This gives time to call the doctor if you need more refills. But wait 3 to 4 days to pick them up. Chances are they are done and you won’t have to wait. This also allows the pharmacist to work on new scripts for sick or hurt people & get them taken care of.
    2. Be patient. Medicine can kill you & I don’t want to make a mistake. I have yet to hear someone tell their surgeon to hurry up, it shouldn’t take that long, I’m the only one on the table!
    3. Be kind. We tend to take better care of the people that are nice to us.


  46. Going back to November of last year (Dallas), I too have been in retail, a bartender and waitress (and fastfood). I am now a pharmacist. I really miss the more simple days of my past jobs. I never woke up in the middle of the night because I thought I gave someone the wrong burger. I was treated much better as a waitress than as a pharmacist. People are happy to wait for a burger but not meds.
    Going back to the guy that complained about pharmacists leaving before their job was done, most of the time we do stay late (who wants to start the day way behind), but sometimes after a normal 10 hour day & staying an hour late we still aren’t caught up. You prioritize the best you can. Close the doors & brace for the next day.
    Yes, more staffing would help, but unfortunately like most businesses, they cut cost by cutting employees.
    Every job in one way or another is a service job, but to compare them all to be equall is not right. McDonalds is not regulated by Medicare and doesn’t have to fill out so many sheets to fill your BigMac, nor do they have to call your doctor to see if they can.
    I wish everyone could work a day in a pharmacy. I really do.


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  48. The article explains why it takes 20 minutes to fill a prescription. However, at my local Walgreens it often takes much longer, like 45 minutes to an hour. There is simply no excuse for that kind of wait. I am a returning customer, and my insurance and other info has not changed in the three years I have been using them. Today I waited an hour to fill 2 prescriptions — one of each of my kids — for antibiotics. Then, after the wait, they informed me they only had enough amoxicillin for one of the prescriptions. They asked, “Shall I call store 4188 to fill the other?” (No, I’ll let my other kid wallow in sickness — of course lady call the other one!) So I had to drive 8 miles to the other store, where it was ready when I got there. So…. an hour to fill one but the other store it takes less than 20 minutes to fill the other one. Surely, something is wrong at my local Walgreens. Prescriptions can be filled in less than an hour. Some pharmacies need to quit blaming the regulations and look at what can be done to speed things up. Clearly, my Walgreens in poorly managed, and I will not go there again. I mean, running out of Amoxicillin? The most basic and cheapest antibiotic? Are you out of aspirin too?


  49. I’m no pharmacist, but as a medical professional I understand the kind of running around you must deal with all day every day: entering patient information, fighting with the computer system, answering and placing numerous phone calls, dealing with doctors and insurance companies (my favorite!),..Well following your logic being in the ER the same thing happens… Using your logic some patients will die,some will not… Phamarmacy lots of time to tell you you are 1 day early and it is against the law.They can spend 20 minutes dishing out what the laws are.Ask to refill RX in under 6 hours..Good luck.Walgreens has lost about 10 rx’s called in by dr. Walgreens gave 30 dafaulty supply blood pressure med when it called for 90 day.Per here I am to blame. Walgreens and others never make any mistakes.


  50. None of the excuses I’ve seen here are very good.

    Prescription Reception: This happens at the counter WITH the customer. Even when there are obstacles, I doubt that this is the type of delay that most people are complaining about. Also, this doesn’t apply to most people who’s paperwork is in order. The complaints about wait times are typically for “please come back in 2 hours” type delays. Who gets halfway through the initial paperwork and suddenly shouts “where’re my meds!?” This item is silly, and doesn’t answer the underlying problem.

    Data entry: This is either a silly reason or misnamed. While messy handwriting CAN be a problem, that should be a simple solution, ignore that order and move on. Do NOT try to fill a prescription that’s dangerous to fill because of such complications. Deal with that customer separately and move on to the next. Proper information should only take a few minutes to enter into a system. IF the actual problem involves phone calls and insurance checks, then this issue is misnamed. The ACTUAL problem is “verification takes time” and NOT “data entry takes time”. No wonder pharmacists are so slow, they can’t even organize their arguments properly.

    Dispensing: WHY DID YOU EVEN INCLUDE THIS? Even your own write-up talks about how quick and easy this step is. At no point is a reason given for why this OUGHT to take a long time. Some of the pharmacists in the comments elaborate by pointing out that double-checking needs to occur, which is fine. The question then becomes “How many times do you ACTUALLY double-check pill counts, and how long does that actually take?”

    Verification: This step requires the most time behind the counter. This is where a pharmacists does his actual pharmacist work. He needs to make sure that the prescriptions aren’t stupid, and that the drugs won’t interact badly with each other, etc. etc.. I can completely understand how a single doctored pharmacist would be a bottleneck on a busy day. Of course, even this doesn’t apply in many situations such a repeat customers who’s prescriptions haven’t changed.

    Release to Patient: Again, this is NOT part of the “please come back in 2 hours” time frame. This is where people stand in line and wait their turn. If there’s a multi-hour physical line of people for this step, then there are severe problems, but I doubt that most people wait more than 30 minutes here. This is NOT the step that’s being complained about (usually). This step often DOES require the direct presence of the pharmacist, which can add to the previously mentioned bottleneck, though.

    So, almost every single point that was made is complete and utter crap. I honestly wonder why most of them were even made. There are only THREE justifiable reasons that were given.

    1. If too many idiot patients are in the que, the entire process can bog down. This refers to situations that include poor doctor handwriting, incomplete personal information, improper drug combinations, etc.. Of course, this excuse ONLY applies situationally.

    2. External verifications. Doctors, insurance companies, etc. often need to be contacted. This creates phone call delays and problems with paperwork cross checking and such. This is a completely valid excuse … for those to whom it applies. However, even when this step does not apply, long waits are still common.

    3. The pharmacist is a bottleneck. This is the most valid excuse that I can see, and seems mostly valid.

    My question is why all the pharmacists are making LAME excuses when they could be elaborating on the three ACTUAL excuses?


  51. I often reserve mine on the phone so the computer already verifies it. Many times I go in the morning or late at night and they read my info back to me in one or two min. This is an article where someone just wants to not feel bad about people making a legitimate complaint. They don’t even package my wife’s birth control so what is to count there? and on and on


  52. I have been waiting for 50 minutes for 7 pills for my dog. I am the only one here and they have no drive thru. This can’t be too hard. My doctors office even called them ahead of time.


  53. sounds like horse shit to me. pharmacist have easy jobs. id trade them jobs in a heartbeat. i can work circles around a LAZY pharmacist


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