Pharmacists, be careful out there

December 10, 2014

With pressure on pharmacists constant and intense, integrity is your best safeguard. Don't let it slip away.

I’ve been around the healthcare business a few years, and one thing that sticks out is how wrong we can be about a fellow professional. I have been surprised more than once by the misdeeds of pharmacists, nurses, and physicians I have worked with. When you deal with powerful and addictive medications, it is easy to get into trouble - a lot easier than you think.

Careers and reputations can be destroyed by a single lapse in judgment, and I don’t mean filling somebody’s Xanax three days early. I’m talking about when you have done something wrong, something that is illegal, and you know it and you continue to do it. Everybody keeps records pretty well now, and I think that while you can fool people for a while, eventually somebody with a badge will figure things out.

Case in point

A good example is a former doctor of mine, just busted for writing controlled scripts to friends and others with no medical record in his office. There are some other shenanigans involved that I won’t get into, but let’s just say the allegations sound really bad. The DEA, state police, and even the town policeman have just raided his office, his home, and his car. He was placed under arrest and his office is closed. I figure his office staff will have trouble getting employment, even if they don’t get charged. As for him, he’s done.

Imagine being led out of your place of employment in handcuffs. Imagine explaining that to your family, your fellow staff, or your patients.

What do you tell your spouse and children? How does this sound?  “Honey, you know that trip we took to Cancun last year? Well, I had to sell some stuff out of the back door to pay for that. Also Joey’s sport camps and the equipment and coaching he needed. We really needed the break, and I want the kids to succeed.” 

Yeah, your spouse will buy that.

 

Pharmacists too

Usually with a pharmacist, things are not so dramatic. However, we had a recent case locally where the FBI shut down an independent for overbilling Medicaid and Medicare. The owner went to jail after they seized his six cars and his quarter-million-dollar baseball-card collection.

This person will never work as a pharmacist again.  This individual is banned for life from working for anyone who bills a government agency. This pharmacist went to jail for six years, for stealing from the government to buy baseball cards that had to be sold to pay the government back.

Baseball cards.

The thing that concerns me is that many readers of this column have big loans to pay back. You may be one. You may feel pressure to put your morals on hold in exchange for some quick and easy money.

You need to know that there are unscrupulous people in this world who will uncover your vulnerability, aided perhaps by some loose talk from you or a post on Facebook. Maybe they will get hold of information from someone who is servicing your student loan. They might learn that you are a little behind on payments, that you could be desperate, maybe willing to turn them - it’s worth a try.

If you do it once, you’re hooked. You are then blackmail material. Or they might threaten you or your family. You now work for them, and it will never end.

It will come back

Maybe you work for an employer who bends the rules frequently. If you are the pharmacist of record or the pharmacist in charge, that will all come back on you.

If you work for or with dishonest people, they will eventually make you dishonest too. It could start out with small things like gaming customer satisfaction scores, but it won’t end there. You will eventually be filling questionable scripts to keep your counts up. Or refilling scripts you don’t have permission to fill.

If your employer gets fined on a regular basis, that would indicate something is wrong.

I tell my students to ask themselves constantly: “Is this ethical, is it in the best interest of the patient?” If the answer is no, the obvious question is “Why am I doing it?”

Be careful. You have people depending on you. Do things the right way. Be honest, and insist on honesty in those you work with. Your career literally depends on it.

If something sounds too good to be true …

It is.