You want fries with those meds? How ’bout some very fast surgery?

November 10, 2015

"I want it and I want it NOW" is not always your best move. Especially with the pharmacist who is filling your Rx.

Mike Schuh“Our surgeons are fast! We can have you out of here in 20 minutes!” Suppose you are the patient, undergoing an important and dangerous surgical procedure while sedated with drugs that can kill or disable patients. Just what you wanted! A very fast surgeon.

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At the fast-food joint

I was the second or third person in early for breakfast at a fast-food joint the other day, and my “fast” food took 22 minutes to prepare. I was traveling, eager to get on the road. The staff looked short-staffed, had forgotten to prepare the morning bacon, and I was the first person ordering something with bacon. Needless to say, I was a bit peeved about the wait.

In our current fast, fast world we are conditioned to expect everything NOW. We’ve produced a few generations of relatively spoiled, I-want-it-now, I demand-it-now, I-am-entitled-to-it-now folks who grew up with helicopter parents, helicopter government, and helicopter politicians, all telling us we deserve it NOW! So that’s what we expect, everywhere we go, with very few distinctions between what is okay for NOW and what is okay for a little longer.

At the pharmacy

Oh, and don’t forget the pharmacies with drive-through windows, giving the impression to the healthcare-uneducated public that filling prescriptions is the same as ordering fast food.

I was a chain pharmacist for many years and still have an interest in the industry. I often observe, as a customer, the level of stress in a chain store with a drive-through at 5 to 6 p.m. on a Monday - or, for that matter, in a chain store that makes 20 minutes the drop-dead time (figurative, one hopes) for an Rx to be ready. Not a pretty sight.

I wonder what the Rx error rate is when the pharmacy is understaffed or something out of the ordinary happens that throws off the workflow rhythm. That 20 minutes is etched into the psyche the pharmacist, because to take more than the allotted time frequently sets up pharmacists for dismissal from their jobs. The anxiety is even greater for an older pharmacist, hired 15 years ago at a much higher pay rate. After all, there are a lot of graduates who want that job, and retail execs understand supply and demand.

So how many times each week is the order filled with sausage instead of bacon? Well, how often is your order wrong when you go through a fast-food drive-through?

The average patron may not realize the difference between drive-throughs, because we have been conditioned universally by retail execs to think fast food, fast prescriptions.

Someone somewhere

Someone, somewhere, must decide how much money to hold in reserve to pay tort claims.

And someone, somewhere, must also decide that as long as the tort payouts do not exceed the savings in labor costs generated by understaffing, then it is okay to continue taking chances and blaming the pharmacist for errors, when the root cause for tort damages reside somewhere else.

 

Lives, not burgers

When you go inside the store to wait for your prescription, you see a pharmacist, from the chest or shoulders up, looking down or at a computer screen, seemingly doing nothing. If you saw a surgeon only from the chest or shoulders up, performing surgery, you would also think that surgeon was doing nothing.

Do we really want our surgeons performing surgery in a guaranteed 20 minutes, just because the procedure normally takes 20 minutes, when maybe the three previous procedures took 30 minutes because an operating-room tech or nurse called in sick and/or complications arose during the procedures?

The surgical scenario sounds ridiculous, right? Is it any less ridiculous to require a pharmacist to stick to a guaranteed 20-minute wait time, regardless of circumstances, while filling a prescription for drugs that can kill or disable patients?

Michael J. Schuh is a clinical pharmacist in Jacksonville, Fla. He can be reached at SchwaRx1@comcast.net.