Viewpoint: Pharmacy is as bewildering as reading confusing street signs

May 12, 2008

It's hard to train technicians about pharmacy when confusion reigns in everything from claims processing to drug names

A good pharmacy technician needs to be able to read a prescription, identify the product being prescribed to confirm its availability, and submit a prescription-billing claim to the appropriate prescription benefit manager.

Prescriptions are presented daily in a variety of formats, some of which are nearly impossible for even an experienced pharmacist to interpret, much less a newly hired technician. Recognizing brand and generic names is difficult enough in itself without adding the complexities of dual brands (Bactrim/Septra, Diabeta/Micronase, Proventil/Ventolin, etc.); multi-dosage forms (Cardizem, Cardizem SR, Cardizem CD, etc.); multi-indications (Wellbutrin/Zyban); new formulations with same name, but different NDC (Duet DHA); and product line extensions sharing the same name (Tylenol whatever). And then, there is the mother of all pharmacy frustrations: insurance card processing.

Imagine being in a strange town, attempting to navigate your way around by reading the street signs. Most places use a standard format of identifying streets by placing a pole at the corner of the street with the name of the street at the top of the pole. Now imagine that this strange town that you are visiting does not use this standard format, but instead uses a variety of formats to identify the streets including:

Like confusing street signs, the lack of standardization in the formats used for some of the core functions in pharmacy is impeding efficiency, increasing errors, and making things far more difficult than they should be. The workflow in the pharmacy just might be a little smoother and efficient if prescriptions were all legible and written the same way, if the names of products were a little less confusing, and if processing an insurance claim was almost like swiping a credit card at the register.

Using the street sign analogy, I think the public can better understand what pharmacists and pharmacy technicians face on a daily basis. Let's work together to bring about greater standardization in retail pharmacy. This would help reduce the growing stress and frustration pharmacists now feel with an increasing prescription volume.

THE AUTHOR is a pharmacy manager and clinical specialist who practices at Rite Aid Pharmacy in Willowick, Ohio.