How to Deal with an Angry Customer


Retail pharmacists get tips on how to deal with angry customers.

With rises in co-pays and issues with denied prescriptions more pharmacists are seeing angry customers. What can they do?

Retail pharmacists have always had their share of customers who are ticked off for whatever reason, with reactions ranging from simple irritation to yelling to violent behavior. However, with the increased crackdown on opioids and higher insurance costs, “angry patient” incidents have-at least anecdotally-have become more prevalent over the past two years.

“What we’ve seen, especially with the clampdown on addictive substances like hydrocodone and benzodiazepines, is that people are more agitated because those drugs are under scrutiny more,” said Richard Logan, PharmD, owner of L & S Pharmacy in Charleston, MO. Logan is also a Deputy Sheriff who investigates prescription drug fraud with the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Department in Missouri.

“The opioid addiction epidemic has clearly led to more desperate customers coming into stores, and getting agitated if the pharmacist suspects the purposes for the prescription drug is not legitimate,” according to a statement the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) provided to Drug Topics.

Missouri does not as yet have a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), but pharmacists “do their due diligence” when filling all prescriptions, Logan said. Some customers then blame pharmacists for delays in filing their scripts. “We have had people get really upset because they had to wait a couple days before an insurance company would reimburse [typically for opioids], that is out of the hands of pharmacists,” Logan said.  “It makes some people unhappy, but our job is not to make people happy; it is to make people well.”
While pharmacists at L & S Pharmacy have not encountered violent patients, they have had some customers who have “become irate and loud, and call names, and assume the pharmacist is standing in the way of what they want,” Logan said.

Here are a few tips for handling irate customers:

When patients are upset over a script not being filled, explain that “you are doing for them what needs to be done within the law and within the pharmacy,” Logan said. “We are entrusted with confident, coherent, and safe use of meds. It’s our responsibility to try to help them through that.” When patients complain about the length of time it takes to fill a script, pharmacists can say, “You are right. Filling a prescription takes time because your safety is important to me,” according to NCPA.

The most professional approach to address challenging patients is to respond assertively, NCPA said. “It not only allows you to maintain your position without responding aggressively and allowing the situation to escalate, it also allows you to hold your position without conceding your point.” One way is to acknowledge the truth of the situation, such as “Yes, processing a prescription can take some time.” Using this type of language allows you to show understanding, “but you are not making excuses or apologizing,” NCPA said.
“Don’t become emotionally involved in the conversation or get angry. The patient is not yelling at you, he is yelling at the system. Keep your calm demeanor and talk them through the situation. Nothing is served if the professional gets angry,” Logan said.

When anyone shows violent behavior, call the police. “If the authorities need to be called, it is within the right of the pharmacists,” NCPA said, and Logan concurred.

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