Contributing Editor Jim Plagakis is a community pharmacist in Galveston, Texas. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc us at email@example.com. You can also check out his website at jimplagakis.com.
Recently, a certified pharmacy technician expressed her frustration when she and her pharmacist were blamed for unprofessional conduct in their telephone transaction with a doctor. The prescriber claimed to be too important to waste her time digging up numbers that the pharmacist needed to fill her patient's prescription. The doctor immodestly identified herself as a well-known and celebrated practitioner. This, apparently, was a good enough reason to refuse the request for her DEA number.
This technician and pharmacist were no different from you and me. They took the prescription with the idea that they would provide the correct medication with accurate instructions. The technician was ready and able to get all of the specialized computer work done so that the label and receipt would be prepared perfectly. The computer printed out auxiliary labels and warnings. The pharmacist was raring to go with appropriate counseling.
"That drug is not a narcotic," said the doctor. "Why do you need my DEA number? I don't have to give it to you."
"We need the DEA number for the patient's insurance," said the technician. She was polite and deferential. She expected a grown-up and courteous response from the doctor. She did not get it. What she got was snotty and inelegant. Childish!
"Don't you listen?" asked the doctor. "I told you the drug is not a narcotic. What is wrong with your ears? I'm not giving you my DEA number. What is your name?"
This is how a bully talks. No respect.
"Will you hold just a second for the pharmacist, please?"
"Do not put me on hold. Nobody puts me on hold. I will hang up if you put me on hold."
The pharmacist came immediately to the phone. "Doctor, the insurance companies use the DEA numbers as the identifiers for the prescribers. They will not honor the claim without the DEA number."
There. That's simple. Isn't it?
"That's ridiculous," said the doctor. "I have never heard of anything so ridiculous."
A typical creative, helpful physician, dedicated to her patient's health. At least she didn't say "Whatever!"
"Well, at least it is not your Social Security number, Doctor."
"Are you being smart with me?"
"I just wanted to lighten things up a little."
"It sounded like you were being smart with me."
"If you refuse to give me your DEA number, your patient will have to pay the full price."
"It is the way it is."
There was a considerable silence, then: "I don't know my DEA number by heart."
"Can you get it?"
"I suppose." A longer silence.
"It is in my purse."