The Pharmacy Chick

Flying the coup in retail

How to find (and keep) a pharmacy per reader request

Filed under: Uncategorized — pharmacychick at 1:35 pm on Thursday, June 10, 2010

One of my readers/commenters asked if I might write a post on how to select a pharmacy.  I had to think about that one for a while because it seemed rather “elementary” of a question to be honest.  My initial response was “pick one near your home”.  But I think that a better post might be “how to get the best experience out of the pharmacy of your choice”.  And THAT is how I think I will answer this reader’s question.

When you choose your pharmacy initially, CONVENIENCE is king.  REALLY.  You want to pick a pharmacy that is near your home or someplace you go the grocery store.  If the pharmacy is in the back of the store, even better, you are in the grocery already, no extra steps are involved to take care of your pharmacy needs.  If its in the same complex,  thats fine also, you don’t have to get into your car and make a separate stop.  Whether you really need a 24-7 pharmacy is debatable. I am an organized and efficient person and  I really dont see the need personally to have a pharmacy THAT accessible to me but then again, I am a pharmaCIST 24-7 anyway and I posess the keys…(tho I have never needed to open the pharmacy for myself…and its probably not a good idea anyway). 

Therefore since that question is easy enough to answer, lets work on the EXPERIENCE of  using a pharmacy.

First off, it is important that you develop a friendly relationship with your pharmacist.  He or She is a human being foremost and coming into the pharmacy on your first visit with a chip on your shoulder or an adversarial attitude because of whatever experience you had at your LAST pharmacy is not going to endear you to anybody at THIS pharmacy ok?  Once you establish a postive realtionship with the staff, it goes a LONG WAY, but likewise, if you start out bad, it will take a long time before you will get into their good graces.  I love the saying “you get what you give” and it applies well here.  There are a lot of little things that we do that are purely optional that can make your life easier.

Have all of your information at the ready, and at the BEGINNING of the transaction, not at the end. That means be prepared to present all of your bio data, and have your CURRENT insurance cards at the onset.  If there is anything quirky about your plan, dont keep it a secret.  an aside:  I had one guy that I absolutely tore my hair out over his insurance and he admitted that he had been a “she” and his insurance had him as a female.  He knew this but didn’t bother to inform me. The less we have to fuss over, the quicker we achieve what you want…the finished product.

Decide what you want your pharmacy to be…a health care service or a cost cutting device.  If all you want out of a pharmacy is “CHEAP” then shop at stores that only really focus on cheap and advertise their $4 stuff.  I’ll be frank with you,  we dont like to be asked if we price match. Not all pharmacies do the $4 thing.  We may price match  because our company tells us to, but its a hassle to keep track of and we think its a little cheesy and tactless.  Likewise, if all you care about it cheap, don’t expect special services from that pharmacy. They likely don’t do them.

Help us with your initial transfers.  If you have moved to a new area and need to transfer prescriptions, we are happy to accomodate. Just give us the proper information and some TIME to do it.  Be sure to tell us all pertinent information like IF YOU HAVE A NEW DR.

Special needs:  If you have special needs or some really expensive drugs,  please order ahead of time. Most pharmacies would prefer not to keep (and hold) a drug for you for 29 days of each month so you can order and pick it up the same day.  At Pharmacy Chick pharmacy, we make it a rule to call patients on rx’s that we are short on.  We value your time as much as you do and dont want you to make more trips to the pharmacy than necessary. Likewise, understand that we aren’t a warehouse.  We don’t stock EVERYTHING on the planet, and since we do 200-500 scripts a day, what we may have had at 9 am might be out of stock by 7pm..

Learn a bit about the biz.  We are the middle man between your doctor and your prescription, and your insurer and you…  Understand that we may  have to ASK to refill your prescription. If el-doctoro hasn’t oked the rx, its not going to be done and getting mad at the pharmacist isn’t going to make that rx magically appear.  Likewise, if your insurer rejects a prescription, we may not have the ability to fix that.  When your insurance company sends you new cards, information, etc…read it all.  Be informed about your choices, your limitations and your benefits.

The worst day of the week to  want something fast is Monday. Its the pharmacy’s busiest day.   The worst day of the week to need a call to the doctor is Friday.   Also, beating the door down at opening time isn’t the ideal time of the day to need special favors any more than racing to the counter at 1 minute before closing is.

“How long is this gonna take?”  and “When should I return for this?”  are basically asking the same thing but #2 is going to elicit a much nicer response than me.   If you want your pharmacist to love you, say “I’ll be back for this in a day or so”.  He/She will throw rose petals at your feet.

Planning 1-3 days ahead isn’t just a favor for us.  It is really to your advantage, resulting in less trips to the pharmacy and leaving empty handed. I have never met a pharmacist who scolded a patient for calling ahead to see if a prescription is ready.  What IS frustrating is to see the same faces over and over at the counter bemoaning the fact that something hasn’t been authorized yet “man, dont you have a phone? Call before you come down!”

Changes:  Tell the staff when you have : 1) changed a dose  2) stopped taking a medicine 3) changed physicians 4) changed addresses 5) changed your name, or 6) developed an allergy to something.

Poly Pharmacy. We advocate using one and ONLY one pharmacy.  We understand its your right to chase the deal.  And if you want to have profiles at every pharmacy in the county chasing the gift cards, understand you are forfeiting the advantages of having your entire profile at one pharmacy. You will not have proper drug interaction checks and it will be up to you to keep track of it all.

Please, No whining.  We all know drugs are expensive.  We aren’t big fans of expensive copays either. We are only charging you what we have to. If you dont like what you have to pay for a prescription, there are contact numbers on the back of every insurance card out there. We also know you think your time is more valuable than the guy sitting next to you.  We, however, think that getting a prescription filled accurately trumps both of you.   (and you might mysteriously find that the nicer you are, the sooner things might be done)

Ive been doing this for 23 years, and I can pretty much sum a person up after 1-2 visits.  I can usually sniff out  “high maintenance” from the get-go, and I can almost always single out the jerks.  That being said, I am also pretty good and recognizing a really neat person too.

Remember:  You get what you give….


Comment by WarmSocks

June 10, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

Thank you very much. This is great information. I appreciate you taking the time to put it all together.

Now I get to pick one of the four pharmacies that are reasonably close to my house. No more driving 25 miles to the pharmacy near my doctor’s office!

Comment by Marie

June 11, 2010 @ 1:03 am

I think I’m going to print this out and give it to a few people I know. I’ve been using the same pharmacy for over 10 years, and would never dream of going somehwere else. they all know me by name and they always are trying to help me find discounts on a VERY expensive med that my insurance wont cover, they’ve helped bring the price from $420 down to $360, which is wonderful to me. I also really like the fact that they know exactly what I’m taking and they’ve caught a few interactions in the past. I have a friend that goes to 5 diffrent pharmacies all the time…and she takes alot of diffrent medications, and she’s always vomiting with stomach pain, I wouldnt be surprised to find out that mixing some of those meds are doing it, but nobody can warn her as nobody has her complete history…

Comment by The Ole' Apothecary

June 11, 2010 @ 7:46 am

PC, I have to say that your excellent advice is for those members of the public who will read it with the goal of making the pharmacist’s job easier. If that is their goal, they would be very kind indeed. But the truth is that many patients could give an airborne copulation (flying fuck) about making pharmacists’ work easier. Many of them do come in WANTING an adversarial relationship with the pharmacist. I even had one man say to me, “If you thought my wife was tough, you haven’t dealt with ME yet.” They enjoy it. They get their rocks off over using us as punching bags.

Unfortunately, too manh patients can’t make the connection between their wish to stroke their own ego and the degree of willingness of the pharmacist to help them. It’s like the Laffer curve. Tax less, and you get more revenue by increasing taxable income. Bitch and whine less, and you get more help from the pharmacist. That’s only human nature.

But,PC, two pieces of your advice stand out as golden: the patient should develop a strong relationship with his or her pharmacist, and also bring all of their prescriptions to the same pharmacy. The hospital where I work has a special outpatient pharmacy for employee prescriptions and also for those receiving county assistance. Just before the onslaught of the four-dollar generic craze, one of the pharmacists (who are also my co-workers since they work for the same organazation as I do!) asked me half-seriously if I was going to switch to one of big-boxers. I immediately replied, “HELL, NO!” In them, I have a built-in strong relationship which I am going to need if I need a lot of personal attention, and I do, just like any other patient. So what if my co-pays are higher than four dollars. Would I jeopardize my personal medication relationships over a couple of bucks?
Problem is, many people want the money. I remember one fellow who shopped at FOUR pharmacies in the area, just to get the best price. He didn’t stop to think that he was sacrificing his healthcare to look for “bargains,” nor did he stop to think that the amount of gasoline he was consuming to find those bargains may have cost him more than the price difference.
Its not about just making the pharmacist life easier. If the patients take even the smallest amounts of efforts to do things right, it pays off in huge dividends for THEM. They wait less, they get what they want, AND in fewer trips. Im not telling them what I want…I am telling them what I NEED in order to do what they WANT. BUT if they want an adversarial relationship, then so be it. They can take the airborne copulation for all I care. Warm Socks wanted to know how to pick a pharmacy and make his experience rewarding. I have plenty of people who seem to like to make it as hard on themselves as they can…so I let them.

Comment by kris

June 11, 2010 @ 10:04 am

Thank you for this! My mama always told me that kindness was the most important thing. For those of us dealing with chronic illness and/or pain, it’s easy to let our frustration with the “system” spill over onto the people in the system. I just spent four days playing “operator” with the MAs in my rheumy’s office to solve some issues that would have taken less than five minutes if I could have talked to the doctor directly. Then they forgot to call in the prescriptions he ordered. Then, by last night when things were finally straightened out, the pharmacy was out of the methotrexate that I needed today to take in to the doctor for injection training. They kindly called another pharmacy so I could get what I needed. I had to drive another 20 minutes, but such is life.

So to pharmacists: know that some of us are responsible patients who start the process with plenty of lead time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee we won’t end up with a *crisis* situation. We’re all stuck in the same medical morass, so hopefully if we can all be kind to one another in the midst of it, we can actually get some needs met.

And we understand that. Sometimes (for us) the most frustrating aspect of our job is just getting to the person who makes the decisions, whether it be getting a simple auth for a refill or getting a prior auth granted..There are often too many layers of people to wade thru before we reach the one we need. I am amazed when I hear a nurse express surprise that I answered the phone myself. I answer the phone a hundred times a day. When was the last time a Dr answered the phone?

Comment by Jason

June 11, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

One thing to add, if as a patient you are told it will be 20 minutes don’t come back in 10 minutes expecting it to be ready. If you complain about having to wait 20 minutes don’t be surprised if it isn’t ready for 30 minutes. Or if you see 20 people waiting in line don’t think it will be done in 10 minutes. Wait times will vary on day of week and time of day. Also if we have to order something for you and we tell you it won’t be in until the next day at noon, don’t come in at 11 demanding it be ready. It is hard to make a drug appear out of thin air if we haven’t received our order yet.
well yes, that is true, but this post wasn’t about scolding a patient. It was really how to pick and make the most out of your pharmacy experience. I would perhaps reword what you wrote in such a way. ” If you decide to wait and the staff tells you 20 minutes, figure that wait times are generally accurate.”

Comment by The Redheaded Pharmacist

June 11, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

Great post PC! I must say though I think you have more faith in the general public than I do. For me, the task of trying to teach a non-pharmacist the information you’ve outlined here would be like trying to teach a first grader calculus!

And if the “you get what you give” line holds true then there is a customer in my area who will get threatened by someone in the near future. Serves him right too!

Comment by JS

June 12, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

Interesting post! I use one pharmacy chain (not Walgreens) but 99% of the time I use one store. The other 1% is if I need something that I can’t pick up and I am asking a neighbor to do me a favor then I use the other location which is 3 minutes from my home, while my preferred location is 20+ minutes from home. I selected that location based on the pharmacy manager. She was kind, friendly and very willing to help with anything I may need. Some of the medications I am on or not common and very expensive. Therefore, I always call in about 6 days before I need anything (otherwise we get “refill to early” and that is a PITA for everyone). Also, I am on a medication that every pharmacy related blog talks about all the time. This amazing pharmacist never made me feel bad for needing this medication and has made every attempt to get it for me every month. Because I need liquid (yes, I can swallow pills) it’s harder to get and McKesson (sp) keeps switching manufacturers. So, I call every month and ask how many bottles she has in (she orders it daily to make sure she has it in stock at the quantity I need and a bit extra in case I have a dose change)that way my doctor can write two scripts if necessary thus saving us a lot of work. So, if she only had 3 bottles I would have my doctor write one script for 3 bottles and one script for 7 (they are small bottles). That way if it doesn’t come in within 72 hours (it pays to remember the law) we have the second script. Because this has been a problem they have been calling other chains to find the medication for me but that would mean changing pharmacies for one script every month but since they suggested it I don’t worry as much. So far it hasn’t happened yet! I do everything in my power to make their jobs easier. The problem is that because so many people abuse certain medications people who really need them have a hard time getting them. Other pharmacies in the past have made me feel bad or made rude comments to me about medication use so I found a pharmacy where the pharmacist understood my medical conditions (PLURAL)and is kind as is her staff. I have never given anyone a reason to believe things are anything but legitimate. I worry about the day she is no longer there and have to start from scratch. Sorry this was so long. And from your point of view: how does ONE get around the stereotypes?
you are a pharmacists perfect patient and seem to do everything right to not only assure that your needs are met, but also in the most efficient manner. Thank you for that. Now about those stereotypes…..(which may be a good blog post all by itself). Stereotypes form because there is some basis of fact. Whether its justified or not, it follows the idiom, “if there is smoke there is probably fire”. to avoid stereotyping, you are doing it correctly…you go to 1 pharmacy. you use one doctor. do not as for early refills…you do not “lose” your medications, and you do not bring in duplicate prescriptions from other doctors. These are practices that seekers use that cause pharmacists to doubt their stories. Whether by injury or illness, people will need pain meds and there will be some who will need to be on them for the rest of their lives.

Comment by JS

June 12, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

JS here again! Thanks PC for your respond to my ridiculously long post. I totally understand the stereotype issue but why do some pharmacists have to be total asses about it; before even talking to the patient or having all the info (basically making an assumption because of the drug). As I explained my pharmacy is having a hard time getting my medication (like I said they order it daily and would rather have two months stock piled knowing I will use it then tell me they have non). They do not use McKesson (I can’t remember who they use). Anyway, they suggested a call another pharmacy and fill it there since they could only give me 1/2 the script and then deal with getting a new script for the balance (weekend, 72 hour time limit up, BLAH BLAH). Here was the conversation:

Other Pharmacy: Thanking for calling OP may I help you?

Me: Yes, thank you! Usually, I fill my monthly script at the Nice Pharmacy and they are having trouble getting my medication and suggested I call you since you order from a different warehouse.

OP: Sure no problem what’s the medication.

Me: C-2

OP: Oh, well, I am going to have check on that one (tone in voice immediately changed). What strength did the MD order?

Me: 20 mg/ 1ml

OP: Yes, we have it.

Me: Great!

OP: It’s the 5 mg/ 1 ml?

Me: I am sorry it is actually the 20 ml/ 1 mg

OP: It’s the same thing?

Me: Since pharmacy isn’t my field do you think you can confirm that with the pharmacist? If my math skills are correct it could be the right medication but I would have to take a whole lot of it to equal my current dose.

OP: Fine (really being nasty now)!

doesn’t put me on hold

OP: Alice is this the same as C-2 20 mg/ 1mg?


OP Tech (was talking to talk the whole time): The pharmacist……………

Me: You can stop right there, you didn’t put me on hold and I heard everything.

OP: OMG, I am so sorry you heard that (followed by about a billion excuses).

Me: I would like to speak to the RPH!

RPH: Hi this is Alice what can I do for you (in a voice so sweet I think I had five cavities by the time she was done).



RPH: I didn’t say that?

Me: Who is your District Manager and may I please have his name. Thank you and have a lovely rest of the day.

PC that is the truth and almost word for word what happened. That is what I meant by stereotyping. How do I as the patient avoid that treatment? What did I do wrong for her to act that way?

Sorry this was so long, really, I am.



PS. Sorry about the grammar and spelling I am too tired to go back over it again.

I suspect the following: Alice has had a run in with SOMEBODY because she used the term ” tell (all those expletives) that I told her 10 TIMES am not going to fill her prescriptions ANYMORE. That tells me that she had a very specific person in mind and because she hadn’t spoken to you personally she believed you to be THAT person. It was most unfortunate that you were privvy to that particular outburst but I honestly dont think it was directed at was directed at somebody she had already had a ton of issues with. Thats my thought anyway based on the exact verbiage she was using.

Comment by CPhT

June 13, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

I only have two things to add, otherwise awesome post!

1) if you’re going to insist we price-match a cheaper pharmacy’s price, don’t let it go through the IVR! The hassle of taking an extra minute to talk to someone human on the phone will outweigh both your and my frustration at having to go back and change it at pick-up while you secretly think that we can’t ever get it right. We fill 200+ a day at my place and while I personally have an uncanny Rainman-esqur memory doesn’t mean my coworkers do!

And 2) please present all drug coupons at drop-off, and for Pete’s sake, if it says call to activate, do so before arriving at the pharmacy with it! I don’t have time (and also, I don’t feel very comfortable giving your home info you didn’t tell me to give out out) and it’ll make the whole transaction smoother. And chances are if you have one of those coupons, it’s a new drug & probably something I don’t have copious amounts of, so please be understanding if I need to order it.
again, yes those are good things, but also again, the post was about how to pick and maximize the pharmacy experience. so sure we could write 100things that a patient could do to make MY life easier, but I was trying to focus on the biggies that not only would help me but would pay off dividends for the patient to improve their experience.

Comment by Scarlett

June 14, 2010 @ 10:36 pm

Thanks for posting this.. this is my first comment! As a pre-pharmacy student (applying for fall ’11) I love reading your blog and getting insight into the world of retail pharmacy because I have only shadowed in a hospital setting. As a patient with cystic fibrosis taking multiple prescriptions each month, I really appreciate this post as I am currently searching for a new pharmacy and will keep this in mind when I search. My pharmacy normally got my prescriptions right but the techs seemed put out when I had questions about things and also my pulmozyme was never refrigerated even though it says to on the box and I was always told to (unless it’s not terribly important? not sure)

I do have a question though.. if I have to use multiple pharmacies (i have one I do my home IVs through) would you as a pharmacist mind if that patient brought in the names/doses of those drugs as well to keep an up to date complete record on file? I do sometimes worry that there may be an interaction that would not be caught because of using the two pharmacies but have never remembered to ask.
Done, via email. But I would add to all the readers, that if you notice that a prescription has not been stored propery, as Scarlett has here, you are under no obligation to take it. I don’t know how long pulmozyme is stable at room temperature, but a call to the manufacturer will tell you, but generally, it is important to maintain the cold chain from manufacturer to the end user.

Comment by Bones

June 19, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

Ye Ole’ Apothecary wrote:

So what if my co-pays are higher than four dollars. Would I jeopardize my personal medication relationships over a couple of bucks? Problem is, many people want the money. I remember one fellow who shopped at FOUR pharmacies in the area, just to get the best price.

A couple of bucks? Nope, not worth it. And while I realize you are talking about a scenario where you have insurance (‘co-pay’ is a dead give-away), when one is uninsured and is strictly cash-pay, it is prudent to shop around – although using the telephone is a much smarter choice than driving from drugstore to drugstore to price shop. For example, when I was uninsured, a particular GENERIC drug I tele-price-shopped came in at $5.16 at Costco, $77.36 at CVS, and $88.53 at Walgreens. Where do you think I took my prescription?

And can anyone explain the enormous difference in costs regarding the above?

PC – One thing you forgot to mention is the quality of the pharmacist him/herself. A patient can go in to a pharmacy as sweet as pie and as respectful as can be, but if the pharmacist – (burnt out or just marking days until retirement or just asocial or uninterested) is not interested in interacting /counseling the patient, or if, dare I say it, is ignorant, it’s time to continue looking for a different pharmacy (or at least pharmacist). I’ve run into a few “turkey” pharmacists in my time, but thankfully, I’ve run into many more excellent ones.
Bones, excellent point. There IS no point in doing business with people are rude or disinterested. all things being equal, Most pharmacists are decent people (a bit geeky but decent none the less), but many can be a bit distant until they get to know you.

Comment by Lisa

June 22, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

I love your blog!

But I disagree about location being key. I think price should be key, first and foremost. There are huge discrepancies in price (especially for uninsured). Big box pharms (CVS, walgreens, etc) tend to be outrageously expensive. I find that too many people think all pharms charge the same for prescriptions, so call around and ask!

The US and Canada are pretty much the only countries in the world where pharmacies are part of a retail store. It’s so stupid. Pharmacies should be stand alone joints and should be treated as a health care provider instead of a place where people go to pick up make-up, beer, or office supplies. Few consider their health or the competency of the pharm staff when they are bombarded by a crabby retail staff.
Lisa, There is no reason that anybody needs to pay straight cash anymore. with so many different “discount” cards given for everything..Hell even AAA has a discount card for pharmacies…Price doesnt’ have to be the main component in selecting a pharmcy. Nearly everybody who comes in and says “I dont have insurance” gets put on a Free Drug card USA plan or advised to get on our state issued discount card. If somebody is a dink to us, well then we may just do the cash price. I had one guy come in who said BIG box wants to charge me $50 for 30 generic ambien.. Under FDC-Usa, it was 8.97 at my place. I got me a new customer..

Comment by Kat

July 2, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

Doing above might just get you a phone call from the pharmacy when your symbicort that has been backordered for 4 days is going to be a few hours late due to the massive snow/ice storm that just swept through. Which will save you a nice mile walk in the 15 degree weather(and yes I did bake cookies for my pharmacist). Just gonna toss that one out there. There are a few of us patients who know when our meds are out and can manage to successfully call them in and have our current insurance card.
cookies? so can you be MY patient ?? we try to call every patient that we have an out of stock status or “short” status so they can save a trip. Its such a small gesture and can save precious time when a lot of people dont have much!

Pingback by A Good Change « ∞ itis

September 5, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

[…] The more I thought about it, though, I decided that I didn’t have to be stuck with that particular pharmacy.  There are many others.  Maybe another one would be better.  I started looking around, observing pharmacies in the area.  I talked to friends to find out where they get their prescriptions, and their reasons for liking/disliking their pharmacy of choice.  I even asked one of the pharmacist bloggers for tips (thanks PC). […]

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