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One chain used the legal system to tell its pharmacists how it really felt. They got the message.
If you’ve been spending your workdays trying to keep up with the chaos that has become the new normal behind the pharmacy counter, you, like me, may have missed one of the most significant developments in the practice of pharmacy for at least a generation. Last year, while you and I and most of our colleagues were struggling to keep up with the flood of patients that microscopic insurance reimbursements force us to see, an appellate court in Pennsylvania quietly issued the most important pharmacy ruling you have never heard of.
Or was that a flood of customers we were struggling to keep up with? That was the issue to be decided, and to most of us the answer is obvious. For decades we have been trained to refer to those we serve as “patients” and nothing else. To use the “c” word was to commit some sort of pharmacy heresy.
So it may surprise you to learn that in 2010, a court case was filed that turned into a two-year legal battle over whether people who have prescriptions filled are to be called “patients” of the pharmacist or “customers.”
It may surprise you even more to learn which side one of the Big Three pharmacy chains took in this battle.
It all started when a law firm decided that it was being charged excessive fees for copies of client’s prescription records. State law clearly stated how much a patient could be required to pay, and one of the major chains had a policy that set a fee in excess of this amount. That’s okay, the chain said, because the people we serve are not “patients,” but “customers.”
I’m not kidding. One of the major employers of pharmacists in this country mounted a full-scale legal fight, at considerable expense, I’m sure, to essentially say that we are no more professional than yoga instructors.
You think I make this stuff up? That was the actual example used by the initial trial judge when he ruled in favor of the drug chain. Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. of the Allegheny County Common Pleas said, “a person receiving services from a psychologist would describe himself as a patient, but a person receiving services from a licensed yoga instructor would not.” He went on to say that the latter term more accurately described the relationship between pharmacists and pat … I mean, customers.
But the lawyers were not done. They took their fight against the drug chain to the appellate level.
"A pharmacist is not merely an intermediary between a vendor and consumer," Judge Jacqueline O. Shogan of the Pennsylvania Superior Court said in her ruling. "Rather, a pharmacist is required to utilize his or her professional education, training and judgment to provide health care to patients. We specifically note that, as part of their health care duties, pharmacists are authorized to administer injectable medications, biologicals and immunizations, thus, the practice of pharmacy is not limited to filling prescriptions."
Obvious words to almost any pharmacist reading this, but words a judge used nonetheless, in ruling against a corporation that employs over 9,000 pharmacists - maybe even you.
I won’t embarrass the company by naming it here, but the plaintiff was named Landay, and a quick Google search will tell you everything you’d like to know about the case that made clear once and for all our relationship with the people we see.
So if you value the progress the profession has made in our lifetime, if you strive to develop professional relationships with those you serve, or even if you just feel that you are a more valuable member of the healthcare team than, say, a yoga instructor, you can thank, not the leaders of one of the most trusted professions in the country, but members of one of the most despised, who took our part against the forces that have taken over pharmacy, and eventually won.
Remember that, the next time you’re talking to your boss.
David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.