We often hear about the scarcity of resources in pharmacy or in health care in general – that we need more resources, specifically money to offer better care and to provide better access to medical services. While that may be true, I also think that we already have resources within us – we just need to learn to spread some love.

Here are two examples of my encounters with the community pharmacists where I felt the root of the problem was not resources, but the lack of love. I am sharing these stories, not because I want to be critical of them but hope that it offers a perspective to help change perception, behaviour and ultimately help shape a better vision for the profession.

In one scenario, a patient called me in desperation because she found an extra tablet in her compliance blister pack.  This patient is wheelchair bound and relies on the personal support worker to get around.  After she has provided more details to me, I had a strong suspicion it was an extra vitamin D tablet – likely harmless but caused a lot of distress for her. She said this has happened to her few times already, that she has found mysterious tablets showing up in her blister pack.  She was losing confidence with this pharmacy. I offered to speak to her pharmacist to ease her concern.

So when I spoke with the pharmacist, he acknowledged his conversation with this patient earlier and emphasized that he couldn’t do anything more until the blister pack is returned for investigation.  I told him she was very distressed of the possible dispensing error. He then went on to describe his pharmacy has a very low dispensing error rate.

Is this the first response to a potential dispensing error? To brag about your low dispensing error?

It wasn’t even about the extra vitamin D tablet anymore. It was more about acknowledging this patient’s distress and reassuring her that he was doing everything he could to resolve the concern. While one can argue more resources might have prevented this dispensing error (if it was indeed due to the shortage of staff etc), no amount of resources would have helped ease the patient’s stress at that very moment. She was looking for some empathy and an acknowledgement of her concern.  Do we need to provide emotional intelligence or EQ training in pharmacy school?

In another scenario, a medical resident asked me what would be a reasonable alternative to Cantharone Plus as she received a note from the pharmacy that it wasn’t available. I called another pharmacy (from the same retail chain) who confirmed that the product was available to order. So I messaged the medical resident and a fax was sent to this pharmacy, asking if he could order in the product.  Shortly after, he responded via fax again that “it’s not available”.  This time, the staff physician asked me to follow up.  I called this pharmacist and he was adamant that this product was not available. But when I explained that I got confirmation from another retail pharmacy (from the same chain) that it was indeed available through the wholesaler, he put me on hold for good while, only to come back and agreed with me that the product could be ordered.  He then bossed me to resend the same prescription so he could process it.  There are few things that I find disturbing:

  • If Cantharone Plus (for wart) was indeed not available, why couldn’t the pharmacist suggest some reasonable alternatives in the fax message. That would have saved everyone time and all the communication back and forth on this issue.
  • This pharmacist must have thought it was not available, but didn’t do diligence to verify it. If he doesn’t take the time to verify such simple task, how can I rely on him to check on appropriate dose and indication of the patient’s medication.
  • When he finally recognized that it was his oversight, why was I asked to resend the prescription. It was – after all –  an over-the-counter product.  Why wouldn’t he just ensure to jot down the patient’s name and order the product in.

Again, it wasn’t the lack of resources that result in this inefficiency. If this pharmacist took the time to verify the product, consider offering alternative options (if it was indeed not available) and to help become part of the team to do what’s right for the patient, it would have saved everyone’s grief. Instead, it cost a lot of resources on everyone’s part with the back and forth communication.

I am not naive that it is becoming more challenging to work in a retail pharmacy setting. But we can choose to do what’s minimum or we can choose to do what’s appropriate and helpful. If we decide to cut corners and do things without considerations of how they may affect patients and the community as a whole, we become the problem and will eventually be eliminated.

The profession in healthcare should be based on a caring philosophy – that we as pharmacists should be caring and kind and always acts in the best interest for our patients.  These attributes aren’t easy to measure but they are very easy  to identify.  So I hope more pharmacists will spread some love wherever they work.

Here are few thoughts that come to mind:

  • Love yourself first – many pharmacists are indeed stressed out. If they cannot look after themselves, they don’t know how to be caring for their patients. Have a honest assessment about whether you need to take time to look after yourself, your needs and your well-being.
  • Love your pharmacy technicians – Almost every time I interact with the pharmacy, it’s the pharmacy technicians who are most helpful, courteous and go out of their way to do the best. They deserve recognition and acknowledgement for their everyday contribution.  Pharmacists cannot function without their dedicated pharmacy technicians.
  • Love your patients – (not romantically) but work within the scope of pharmacy in ways to benefit them.  Not just passing the buck, or clocking in the time. Our patients rely on us to resolve their problems, whether that be dispensing the correct medications, resolving the drug related issues, or just helping them understand how the medications are important to their health.

So there, we can talk all day long how there may be scarcity of resources in pharmacy but we all can make a difference by just spreading some kindness and love.

Thank you for reading my post and Happy Valentine’s Day.