Last week a new acquaintance asked me what I do for a living. My reply, “I spend my day telling people things they don’t want to hear. I’m a pharmacist and I deliver the news that  “your co-pay is much higher than you expected,” “your insurance company requires a prior authorization,” “your prescription was out of refills and your doctor has not responded to our request for a new prescription.” The list of examples goes on and on, but these are by far the most common.  People have high expectations of me and my department to make sure they leave the store happy and on the road to recovery from the ailment that brought them into the store.

Stew Leonard owns one of the most successful grocery stores in the world. Does his policy work in every situation?

Stew Leonard owns one of the most successful grocery stores in the world. Does his policy work in every situation?

Years ago, a syndicated columnist stated in no uncertain terms “The customer is NOT always right.” The article continued with the author’s evidence to support the claim. In retail sales, the age old standard is a difficult hurdle to overcome. In pharmacy it’s almost impossible. Once a shopper complains to a member of management outside the pharmacy, it’s a sure bet the manager will side with the customer—unless it’s a patient requesting something the pharmacist is prohibited from doing either by law or regulation. The distinction of roles they play once they enter the portal of a retail pharmacy is blurred. Sometimes, the clarity of a sharp focus is never achieved.

A simultaneous reference(customer/patient) to the people who shop in stores that contain a pharmacy became noticeable back in the 1970’s.  Was this duality the precursor to changes we see in the perception of consumers today? Are these shoppers  customers or patients—or both?

This labeling of shoppers took on more prominence with the rise in popularity of chain drug stores in the late twentieth century.

When pharmacists (usually independents) began leasing space for a pharmacy inside department or discount stores (such as Walmart’s precursors like “Gibson Wholesale”) the change  in,  shopping nomenclature picked up speed as well as consumer awareness of the trend.

Pharmacies are now being paid for talking to patients.

Pharmacies are now being paid for talking to patients.

Contemporary retail practice settings such as a prescription department in a grocery store or Walmart, continue that same tradition with shoppers being both customers and patients. I worked for Walmart for 7 years and by the time I left, we had to document counselling encounters in the computer—yet another conversion of a patient to a number.

Another significant event in the change in perception of shoppers was the influx of non-pharmacists into upper level management of both hospitals and chains. [Historical note: Eckerd Drugs (which no longer exists) had a chain of command of pharmacists supervising pharmacists from store level all the way up to the highest echelons of corporate management. The Sr. VP of Pharmacy reported directly to the CEO. Non-pharmacist management types could influence pharmacy only via him. Those days are gone with the wind. By contrast, the top pharmacy position at Walmart is a medical doctor(or was a few years ago.) ]

Retail pharmacists are now required by law to offer to counsel patients on new prescriptions. The requirement comes not from a concern for customer service, but from the government wanting patients who received government funded medication to use it correctly. Uncle Sam wants the most bang for his buck. Insurance companies now reimburse pharmacists for these same “cognitive services.”

Simply stated, insurance companies want pharmacists to talk to their beneficiaries and, just like our Uncle, get the most bang for their buck.

Many pharmacists complain that the reimbursement is not commensurate with the time involved. Many patients don’t want these extra services. They just want their prescription so they can get home, eat supper, and watch television. Perhaps they don’t mind being just another number. Such a mindset could be dangerous to their health.

Whether they consider themselves customers or patients, the shoppers I serve have one thing in common;

they’re all on drugs.