Today felt like national narcotic day in the pharmacy. It seemed like every couple of scripts was for a narcotic medication. It made for a very busy day. The most common complaint I got was, “Why does it take so long to fill my medication?” So, here’s my answer…
The normal filling process at the busiest hour of the day takes about 15 minutes, if all goes smoothly and there are three or less prescriptions. Why is this?
1.) The person that takes your prescription from you has to type all of the information on the script into the computer. If the prescription is easily legible or typed, the process will take about 1-2 minutes for each prescription, depending on how fast the person can type. Any questions or illegible handwriting means the prescriber needs to be contacted before it can be filled and dispensed. I can’t count how many times I have to verify the strength on prescriptions because decimal points are omitted.
2.) After that, the prescription has to be submitted to the insurance. If it’s accepted, this process takes about a minute. If it’s rejected, that can extend the time anywhere from 2 minutes to 2 weeks depending on what the rejection is. This is the step that aggravates most people, pharmacy staff included.
3.) After the insurance step, comes the actual counting and labeling step, which is the easiest part of the whole process. A good technician can count 30 pills out in about 45 seconds if they’re on a roll. But, add in 200 other prescriptions to fill during the busiest part of the day plus phone calls and ringing register, and you’ll have some back up in the production line. So, practically speaking, we allow them a few minutes to get through each person.
4.) The final step in the process before checking out is where I come into play. I need to double check each prescription that is filled, even if I was the one who counted out the pills. I have to make sure each script was entered right, billed correctly, and filled properly. If everything is straightforward, I can verify a prescription in less than a minute. But, between answering doctor calls, counseling patients, and correcting errors, the process takes much longer at the busiest hour of the day.
So, where does a narcotic come into play? In many pharmacies in the US, narcotic medications can only be counted by an on-duty pharmacist. So, this breaks up the normal production line. I have to make sure I am well caught up before filling a narcotic because I won’t be able to verify anything while I’m filling it. These medications have to be counted twice, and the remaining quantity in any stock bottles have to be counted and logged in a log book. There is more documentation that goes into narcotics prescriptions than other medications, and this can only be done by the pharmacists most of the time. The counting and filling of a narcotic alone takes a good five to ten minutes depending on how many tablets and if I receive any phone calls or questions during that time frame.
So, yeah, narcotics make for busy days. The more there are, the longer it takes for me to get medications out to my patients. I wish I could make people understand this. I feel like if they knew what went into filling narcotic scripts, they’d be a bit more understanding. Then again, maybe I expect too much out of people.