What makes a good pharmacy?

July 1, 2011

Depending upon whom you ask, there are similarities in responses to the question ?What makes a good pharmacy?? but you will also see differences. The academic pharmacist will tell you that diligence and competence are the most important attributes a pharmacist can possess. The community pharmacist will discuss lack of staffing. The hospital pharmacist is likely to agree with both.

I preface this article with the caveat that my opinion is informed by 40 years of professional experience derived mainly from the retail environment. I am speaking from knowledge gained during those years of practice and not as a representative of any organization or employer.

Depending upon whom you ask, there are similarities in responses to the question “What makes a good pharmacy?” but you will also see differences.

The academic pharmacist will tell you that diligence and competence are the most important attributes a pharmacist can possess. This is an incomplete reply, because the weakness of academicians is that they lack retail experience.

The community pharmacist will discuss lack of staffing.

The hospital pharmacist is likely to agree with both.

What unites these different but essential sectors is what I call the three C's: Compatibility, Compassion, and Competence. If we can achieve the correct mix of these 3 factors, the result manifests as motivation, high morale, and teamwork.

However, the professional landscape has drastically changed. The challenges mount. Despite our best efforts, the green grass is getting brown, and the weeds are getting taller.

Let me give some examples.

I have asked pharmacists the type of environment they would prefer to work in:

Would you like to be in a pharmacy doing under 100 prescriptions per day, but you will have no help?

Would you prefer doing 100 to 300 prescriptions per day as the only pharmacist, with 1 or 2 technicians?

Would you rather do in excess of 300 prescriptions a day, with 3 technicians and an overlapping pharmacist for two hours?

Those who preferred the 100 prescriptions or less said they could practice pharmacy as they were trained, because of the direct patient contact. For example, a prescription was dispensed for birth control and the women wanted to purchase St. Johns Wart. By explaining to her the contradindication, the pharmacist may have prevented an unwanted pregnancy.

In the busier environments this would not happen. It is not that the pharmacy does not want to provide additional help, but that the insurance companies have licked the plate bare. Today, the prescription department is an accommodation, not a moneymaker. It is the most expensive area to operate. The pharmacy has become more complicated; this has cost our healthcare system billions of dollars. The pot is boiling, and soon signs will be posted that say, “We are no longer able to fill your insurance plan.”

Lastly, security has become a major issue in pharmacies. With stores open late, stores open around the clock, and stores conveniently located near highways, armed robberies are increasing dramatically. There are a lot of crazies out there, and they are willing to shoot to get their drugs.

In retail, it is frustrating for customers to check out a few items when there are 5 cash registers and only 1 is in use. The customers complain, thinking that the store is trying to save money, when the reality is that theft is at an all-time high. It is estimated that 30 billion dollars a year are lost because of it.

When I see customers waiting, I ask the manager to open up a register to speed up the line, and this occurs when we are working in conjunction with each other. Which brings me back to the three C’s. Compatibility, Compassion, and Competence. But in this day and age, are they enough? Or are there circumstances that we cannot transcend?

Robert Katz has been a working pharmacist for 40 years and is still passionate about the profession.