Pharmacist apathy – or lack of knowledge and care factor?

bored-looking young pharmacist writing on a clipboard

There’s no excuse for just going through the motions in pharmacy, writes Karalyn Huxhagen

I admit to being one of those people who seek out the programs that can assist and benefit patients. The patients that I encounter in both my consulting work and when I am in the community pharmacy benefit from my knowledge and expertise.

I am also one of those pharmacists who become angry when I encounter lazy pharmacists who perform the minimum amount of tasks each day when working in the pharmacy environment.

In recent times we had a lady come to us for DAA packing. She normally has her DAAs packed in Sydney and is given a large quantity at one time. This lady has a DVA Gold card and is on a lot of medication.

When setting up the DAA I asked whether she had an authority prescription that covered off on the costs of the DAAs. She had no knowledge of this.

I also asked whether she had undertaken a recent Home Medicine Review as she was taking a lot of medications and was clearly not very well. She had no knowledge of this process either.

I telephoned the pharmacy in Sydney and asked about the authority for DAA packing. The pharmacist explained that she was ‘just the locum’ and that the owner did not ‘get into those kinds of things’. They packed for six weeks at a time and charged all patients a fee for packing.

I then rang the GP to try and discuss applying for an authority from DVA for the packing fees. The lady that answered the telephone told me that the GP was overseas and that there was no locum to cover his patients.

On discussion with the patient I was told that this was a regular occurrence and that the GP always provided the prescriptions that the pharmacy needed when he returned to Australia.

This mess was becoming worthy of a letter to AHPRA by the minute.

This situation is very sad and very bad for this patient. She is elderly with many comorbidities and requires the care of a GP who is accessible. She is paying money for services that DVA would provide at no cost to her but no one in her care cycle had cared enough to investigate and organise this for her.

As I discussed the programs that she could access I came to realise that she probably has not had access to any of the programs within the Coordinated Veterans Care Program.

I am amazed when I encounter pharmacists who are happy to just routinely go to work, dispense and go through the basic motions of being a pharmacist. They provide minimal care and support to patients.

I am dismayed and angry when patients tell me that they have never been counselled or informed about programs or even appliances that can assist them.

It is frustrating to work within an industry where such an apathetic work ethic can be considered okay.

Being someone who never steps back from a confrontation, I have asked some of these pharmacists to attend CPD and networking events so that they gain knowledge and understanding of the programs and services available to the patients.

These pharmacists tell me that they are happy to gain their CPD from reading a magazine or doing the online modules. They do not realise or want to know how much more they can gain by networking and interacting with fellow health professionals.

Apathy in the workplace is not just a pharmacy issue. We all complain loudly about the barista who serves cold coffee, the retail assistant who cannot smile and the delicatessen person who sneezes over your sandwich.

Being a pharmacist comes with a lot of responsibility. It is not good enough to provide a minimum standard of care to the patients who put their wellbeing into your hands each day.

I am not asking for you to be an amazing driven human being, but I am asking that you ensure your knowledge and capacity to provide knowledge, advice and professional service is worthy of the profession that you have chosen as a career.

If you are only marking time in this profession as a means to an end or for the money, it is time to move on. We are health professionals, with a duty of care.

Karalyn Huxhagen is a community pharmacist and was 2010 Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Pharmacist of the Year. She has just been named winner of the 2015 PSA Award for Quality Use of Medicines in Pain Management and is group facilitator of the Mackay Pain Support Group.

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    Well said Karalyn. I think it’s a shame that there is more than one pharmacist in the country who is experiencing this exact situation.

  2. MyHairdresserGetsPaidMore

    You get what you pay for

    • Sarah

      We can’t and won’t be paid more if we take that attitude. We have to prove our worth.

      • United we stand

        Pharmacists did what regulations at the time allowed them to do. They didnt come short in anyway. Think about it this way. Just allowing pharmacists to immunise has been going through legislation for at least 5-6 years.
        Btw once they pay you $28/hr don’t ever expect to see $45/hr roles coming your way. We’re a cheap and abundant labour force now that investors can tap into to make their businesses profitable. And its not going to change anytime soon. Period

  3. Not a rare case

    What is a shame is that complacency is rewarded (or not punished) in this profession. Hence the discount pharmacy model has thrived. The profession relies on the good will of certain pharmacists without reward. Whether you go the extra mile, provide the bare minimum or have a portfolio of experience/additional education as long as your arm, the remuneration is the same. One only has to look at the availability of the HMR program to realise this. In fact the HMR program may not have been available for this patient. I have seen many areas where HMRs cannot be conducted as a result of the cap…..these patients no longer have access to these services. Your example is not a rare case. You only have to look at the patients filtering through the hospital system to recognise the substandard care some are getting. This is indeed why it is important to have clinical pharmacists who can perform these essential accountable services, as part of healthcare teams, unrestricted.

  4. United we stand

    As much as I agree with the overall msg Karalyn is pointing out, there’s always a reason for such shortcomings and it’s not always laziness!

    One should understand the pressure and workload a Pharmacist is under in a busy metropolitan pharmacy compared to a rural pharmacy in QLD. There’s also a huge pay gap between a city pharmacist and one in rural areas. You pay a Pharmacist in Sydney $40/hr like you would in rural areas and he/she will be much more active in their role. You get what you pay for as our lovely hairdresser pointed out earlier 🙂

    • Sarah

      Not true. Pharmacists used to be well paid, and we didn’t grip the opportunity with both hands to prove our worth; instead we became complacent. Now, we need to prove our worth.

      • United we stand

        Hahaha we have another 12-15 years before robots armed with advanced artificial intelligence replace most pharmacists out there. Pharmacists will be one of the first roles that will be redundant in the health industry post 2025! If you didnt earn a decent living by then you’re in big trouble.
        Truck drivers will be ancient history in 2018 once self driving trucks come out. Pharmacists will face the same consequence a decade later…such is life

  5. Phil Spyrou

    Very disappointing standard of care that this patient was receiving. It wouldn’t have taken long for the pharmacist to make a phone call to the GP practice or even send a referral note through fax asking for a DVA DAA script. It also doesn’t take too long to arrange for a HMR, at the very least make the patient aware of the service.

    I would be interested to know though how many scripts that pharmacist is dispensing per day. Possibly 300+ with no other pharmacist/intern and just one tech. The pharmacist is also likely required to record 10% of all scripts as a clinical intervention and 10+ medschecks per month.

    Pharmacists workloads in metropolitan areas should also be addressed Karalyn.

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