Pharmacists and phone etiquette

March 23, 2016

Sometimes it's not the demanding customers or condescending physicians, it's their own colleagues who drive pharmacists right up the wall.

Dennis MillerWhen I wrote my commentary titled “What kinds of pharmacists get under your skin?” I expected to be bombarded with e-mails from pharmacists who criticized me for criticizing them. It turns out I was wrong. It turns out that lots of pharmacists do indeed enjoy criticizing other pharmacists. They have lots of stuff to get off their chest about their annoying colleagues.

See also: Pharmacists and cognitive dissonance

Professional courtesy

One of the most frequent peeves pharmacists mentioned in their e-mail feedback was that other pharmacists don’t pick up the phone for an Rx transfer. Pharmacists are placed on hold for an eternity - they’re being shown no respect whatsoever.

I received an e-mail from a pharmacist who said he is annoyed by “pharmacists who have no consideration for the time of other pharmacists. [They] leave you on the phone forever and in some instances pick up the phone, find out you are another pharmacist, and put you on hold again.”

Occasionally I have accompanied my parents to their doctors’ appointments. In my experience, when they knew another physician was calling, the docs would immediately take the phone call, even if they were with one of my parents.

Do physicians view this as professional courtesy for their colleagues? Why don’t we give a similar professional courtesy to the pharmacists waiting on the phone for a Rx transfer?

See also: Is job satisfaction too much to ask?

Pharmacists first

There are basically four categories of people who call the pharmacy: 1) customers, 2) nurses/receptionists, 3) physicians, and 4) other pharmacists.

In my experience, most pharmacists give priority to answering phone calls from physicians. Why shouldn’t pharmacists instead give priority to other pharmacists and let customers, physicians, and nurses/receptionists stay on hold for an eternity?

The answer of course is that ideally we shouldn’t have to put anyone on hold for an eternity. But if we have to make someone mad by placing them on hold forever, why not make the customers and physicians mad, instead of other pharmacists?

Of course, you may call this a recipe for getting ourselves fired, but I’m just saying.


What I think

When a tech tells us that a local pharmacy is on the phone, requesting a copy for a transfer, that never stirs warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of most pharmacists.

My own first thought is that we did a poor job taking care of that customer. My second thought is that our competitor is stealing the customer from us. My third thought is that if the chain provided us with enough staffing, we could take better care of our existing customers.

We as pharmacists rightly complain about how poorly we’re treated by the chain we work for, yet we often treat other pharmacists equally poorly by the inconsiderate handling of calls for Rx transfers. Our attitude seems to be: Since I’m being treated poorly by my employer, I intend to spread the grief around by treating techs, doctors, nurses, receptionists, customers, and pharmacists on the phone equally poorly.

What they think

As a chain pharmacist, I wasn’t trying to steal our competitors’ customers. We already had more scripts than we could handle in our dangerously understaffed pharmacy. I took no enjoyment in transferring scripts from competitors. It is a very time-consuming and monotonous task.

I admit that handling phone calls from competitors wanting Rx transfers is sometimes quite unpleasant. Sometimes (quite often, actually) the pharmacist calling for a transfer has a superior attitude, with the unstated implication in his voice: We’re taking your customer because obviously you did not take care of them. We’re a better pharmacy than you are. You’re a bunch of losers!

So I, too, did not like handling phone transfers when the pharmacist had that attitude. Some pharmacists call for a transfer and bark (almost demand), “Need a copy!” I interpret that attitude as We need a copy because you losers can’t take care of your customers! These types of calls always increased my blood pressure. I wish pharmacists would instead ask in a courteous way, “Can we get a copy?”

What do you think?

What is the proper phone etiquette for requesting a copy for an Rx transfer? Some pharmacists clearly need major improvement in this area.

Do you prefer a dog-eat-dog world that takes stealing each other’s customers for granted?

Or can we rise above our competitive and mercenary instincts to treat each other with respect?

A frequent contributor to Drug Topics, Dennis Milleris a retired chain-store pharmacist living in Delray Beach, Fla. He welcomes feedback His books Chain Drug Stores are Dangerous and Pharmacy Exposed are available