What's in a name, Part 2

April 10, 2014

The fight over whether pharmacists serve "patients" or "customers" continues. And now there's a new question: How come a major national pharmacy organization has no opinion?

I can’t believe I have to write this column, which will be my second one about Landay v. Rite Aid, a court case working its way through the Pennsylvania legal system that centers on whether people who patronize pharmacies are to be defined as “customers” or “patients.”  If you missed my January column, you might think it’s obvious which side Rite Aid would be on. You’re probably wrong. In that column I wrote that this case “made clear once and for all our relationship with the people we see,” and … I was wrong. To my surprise, this case continues.

The back story

First a quick recap. At the heart of Landay was a dispute over how much could be charged for access to a person’s prescription records. Pennsylvania law set a limit on how much a patient could be charged, which Rite Aid said did not apply to them, as the people it serves should be defined as customers. The company won the first round, when a judge compared what we do for people to the services of a yoga instructor. That decision was reversed on appeal, however; the second judge stated what most of us would say is obvious: “The practice of pharmacy is not limited to filling prescriptions.”

When I wrote my last column, I assumed the matter ended there. I’m sure many readers know, however, that old truism about the word “assume.” I have learned that Rite Aid has appealed this decision, and while I’m no lawyer, it seems as if a central argument in the legal brief the company filed on January 22 is that it should be held to the standards of the profession in 1998, when the law in question was passed, and not those of today.

I contacted the lawyer for the plaintiff, who told me in an e-mail that it would be safe to say that the third largest operator of pharmacies in the country is contending (1) that pharmacists are not healthcare providers, (2) that individuals who use the services of pharmacists are not patients, and that 3) pharmacy records are not medical records.

If true, that’s a stance anyone associated with the pharmacy profession in 2014 should be embarrassed to admit in public.

 

No one’s talking

I’d love to give you Rite Aid’s version of the story, but the company declined comment for this article.

I’d also love to tell you what the American Pharmacists Association - the organization that sees itself as forging the future of pharmacy - thinks about a case that seems to tie us to the past, but all I could get from APhA was a message via Twitter that it had no comment on the case. In a story full of surprises, I think that is the biggest one of all.

While the time, trouble, and expense a corporation is spending to defend its right to charge what it wants for patient/customer records is a bit surprising to me, that APhA would have nothing to say about an issue that goes to the core of how the profession is defined is astonishing.

A for-profit corporation exists, after all, to make as much money as it can, but a group such as APhA is supposed to have a higher calling.

“Your Profession Is Our Priority” it says on the website homepage - but evidently that’s not enough of a priority to justify comment when one of the major players in our profession wants to wrap itself in the standards of a generation ago.

 

And the beat goes on

So the argument over how the profession is to be defined will continue, evidently without the input of the organization that says it “continues today to lead the profession of pharmacy.”

I wonder how many technician payroll hours Rite Aid could have bought to serve its patients/customers if it had simply given someone their prescription records at a reasonable price instead of spending years in court defending the right to charge $50 a page.

But mostly, I wonder what sort of definition of “leadership” APhA uses.

I have no idea. But whatever that definition is, I hope it changes soon. 

David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. E-mail him at drugmonkeyrph@gmail.com.